Try Not to Triple Flip When You See Your Favorite Olympic Figure Skaters Then and Now

As the women's figure skating competition gets underway at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, here's a look at the most memorable U.S. skaters from the last four decades, then and now.

By Natalie Finn Feb 15, 2022 11:00 AMTags

Time glides when you're having fun.

The usual pièce de résistance of any Winter Olympic Games, women's figure skating, gets underway at last Feb. 15, with Karen Chen, Mariah Bell and Alysa Liu taking the ice in hopes of securing a medal for the United States in this event for the first time since 2006. 

So far Team USA has had a fairly dazzling showing at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, with 22-year-old powerhouse Nathan Chen earning the highest-ever men's score for his short program on his way to winning gold last week, the U.S. earning silver in the team event and the ice dancing pair of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue adding bronze medals to their trophy cases.

Nathan Chen, Karen Chen, Hubbell and Donahue were also all members of that silver-winning team, along with Vincent Zhou, pairs couple Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, and ice dancers Evan Bates and Madison Chock

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Meet the 16 Members of the 2022 U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team

Meanwhile, the women's competition is already shadowed by scandal in light of a report that, prior to the Games, 15-year-old phenom Kamila Valieva of the team gold-winning ROC tested positive for a heart medication found on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances. After days of wrangling over her status in these Olympics, she's been cleared to skate in the individual event—her fate already promised to be controversial whichever direction it went.

So, all eyes will be on Valieva, who was already the favorite to top the podium, especially after becoming the first on the women's side to ever land a quad jump in the Olympics. But perhaps that will ease the pressure on two-time Olympian Chen, 22; and first-timers Bell, 25, the reigning U.S. champion; and Liu, the youngest member of the entire U.S. figure skating team at 16.

In any case, whether they've been at the top of their game or in a rebuilding period, the U.S. team has always had its share of heroes, drama and high-flying moments, part of an illustrious history going back to the 1940s.

So before you settle in with your cocoa and your guide to what is an Axel vs. a Lutz vs. a Salchow vs. a flip vs. a toe loop to watch the women's short program tonight, here's a look at where your favorite American figure skaters are now:

Scott Hamilton

The two-time Olympian won gold in Sarajevo in 1984, the first American man to top the podium since David Jenkins in 1960. Also as four-time World Champion, Hamilton went on to tour professionally and spent years as a TV commentator for CBS and NBC.

Hamilton spoke candidly about battling testicular cancer after a 1997 diagnosis—"It was after I survived that I felt I could endure anything," he told Coping magazine—and being treated for a reoccurring benign brain tumor.

"Every time I've gotten knocked down, I've been able to get up," he told People in 2015. "Skating teaches you how to get up, because you fall down a lot. I would urge anybody to weather the storm, because on the other side of it will be something great."

Hamilton and his wife Tracie are parents of four, including two children they adopted from Haiti in 2014.

He also still has the skating costume he wore for his gold-winning performance and showed it off from his home in Tennessee during an appearance on NBC Sports' "Olympic Ice" during the Beijing Games. 

Brian Boitano

At the 1988 Calgary Games, the three-time Olympian earned his American flag-appliquéd skates a spot in the National Museum of American History with his gold medal-winning performance, in which he became the first Olympic champion to land all six kinds of triple jumps. (He was already the first skater ever to accomplish the feat during the 1983 World Championships.)

The native Californian has been a pop culture fixture ever since. He won an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in Classical Music/Dance Programming for the 1990 special Carmen on Ice; got an unexpected but life-changing shout-out in the song "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" in 1999's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, then hosted the Food Network show What Would Brian Boitano Make?; and had cameos in the movies Ice Princess and Blades of Glory.

When President Barack Obama named him to the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, he also took the opportunity to come out as gay, something he told reporters he hadn't necessarily planned to do publicly but was inspired to do as part of the pushback to anti-gay legislation passed in Russia.

"I don't feel that I can represent the country without revealing this incredible side of myself," Boitano said in a statement. "This is an important moment, and to represent my country in Russia, it's a platform that is so important for me."

He remains a go-to expert when the big events come up, and has contributed to NBC Sports' coverage of the Beijing Olympics.

Kristi Yamaguchi

The 1992 Olympic gold medalist actually first found success as a pairs skater, teaming with Rudy Galindo to win U.S. juniors in 1986 and world juniors in 1988.

But going solo was the move, as her triumph in Albertville would confirm. Afterward Yamaguchi toured as a pro for years and founded the Always Dream foundation, which provides funding for after-school programs and other education essentials for underprivileged children.

She's made numerous TV and movie cameos, authored a best-selling children's book, released a fitness video, created an active-wear line and, last but not least, in 2006 she became the first Olympic figure skating champion to win Dancing With the Stars.

Yamaguchi has been married to former hockey player Bret Hedican since 2000 (they met-cute at the 1992 Olympics as members of Team USA) and they have two daughters together.

Nancy Kerrigan

Already a bronze medalist at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, Kerrigan couldn't help but end up especially famous after being clubbed in the knee while getting ready for the 1994 U.S. Championship in Detroit, an attack spearheaded by teammate Tonya Harding's ex-husband.

After making a triumphant silver medal showing at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics a month later, Kerrigan's life became a whirlwind of endorsements, hosting Saturday Night Live and other all-star perks (and non-perks, such as being caught on a hot mic calling the Walt Disney World Parade the "corniest thing" she'd ever done).

Kerrigan skated professionally and became a fixture on the speaking circuit, made numerous TV appearances and authored the book Artistry on Ice. In the spring of 2017 she finished sixth on Dancing With the Stars.

During her run on the ballroom competition, Kerrigan opened up about suffering six miscarriages in eight years after she and husband Jerry Solomon welcomed their firstborn, Matthew, in 1996. In 2005 they had son Brian, with the help of IVF, and daughter Nicole was born in 2008. "We fought hard for this family," she said on DWTS. "I want to say to my kids through this dance, 'Never give up...Keep trying.'"

Ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, Kerrigan told NewsNation's Morning in America (while talking about a new NFT portrait of her as a superhero, about as zeitgeisty as it gets) that, with Brian competing in gymnastics and Nicole in ballet school, she's appreciating her own parents' past support more than ever. "Nobody gets to the top by themselves," she reflected. "It takes a team of people and effort. You may be out there performing by yourself, but somebody's driving you, someone's taking you and organizing...They're just working so hard that, as a parent, I realize all that my parents did."

Tonya Harding

OK, maybe not exactly a favorite when she made her second Olympic team in 1994, nor is she exactly a hero today, but thanks to hindsight and a thought-provoking take on her story in the 2017 biopic I, Tonya, Harding isn't a villain anymore either.

After winning the U.S. championship a month prior, she finished a disappointing eighth at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, her long program dramatically interrupted by a broken skate lace. And then in June, her national title was vacated after an investigation into the attack on Nancy Kerrigan found that Harding's ex-husband and several associates were behind the plot to incapacitate her rival enough to keep her off the Olympic team. Harding insisted she knew nothing about it until after the attack had occurred. 

The takes were unkind. For years Harding was relegated to punchline status and did punchline-y things, like make a sex tape, compete in celebrity boxing matches and get arrested for punching her boyfriend (she pleaded guilty and spent three days in jail).

But after Margot Robbie's Oscar-nominated performance as the Portland, Ore.-bred skater, society seemed to unclench a bit. In 2018, Harding finished third on an all-athlete season of Dancing With the Stars and in 2019 won the fifth celebrity edition of Worst Cooks in America, donating her $250,000 prize to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

She's been married to third husband Joseph Price since 2010 and is mom to son Gordon, born in 2011.

Michelle Kwan

The nine-time U.S. champion (tied for the all-time record with the late Maribel Vinson, a 1930s-era Olympian) came up short in her bids for Olympic gold, earning silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002 and then pulling out of the 2006 Games with an injury, but has remained one of the most famous-ever faces of U.S. figure skating.

During the Champions on Ice Tour in 2002 months after the Salt Lake City Olympics, for which she was earning a tour-high $1 million and getting standing ovations, Kwan told the Los Angeles Times of the audience's reception to her, "It's more a reassurance, not like a pity. Reassurance like, 'Hey, you know, it doesn't matter, life's not perfect,' kind of attitude....They realize the pain [of losing]. That's the wrong word. That that's the way life goes sometimes. You have to kind of shrug your shoulders and move on."

With nearly two decades of hindsight under her belt, she told People in 2021, "Getting the opportunity and having the honor to represent the country was something else...There was nothing like it."

Kwan was a campaign surrogate for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, and she executive-produced the 2021 YouTube special Recipe for Change, a food-centric gathering of Asian-American chefs, celebrities and activists meant to help educate viewers about their cultures' contributions amid a reported rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.

And all sorts of excitement is afoot now: In December, Biden nominated Kwan to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Belize, and last month she revealed she had welcomed her first child, a daughter named Kalista Belle Kwan.

Tara Lipinski

We know you know exactly where the 1998 Olympic gold medalist is—calling all the figure-skating action at the ongoing 2022 Beijing Olympics alongside broadcasting partner Johnny Weir, the pair of them joining the NBC Sports family in 2013.

"It's like a long-lost soul mate that I met late in life," she told GQ of Weir in 2018. "I can't imagine my life without him."

Lipinski became the youngest-ever world champion at 14 in 1997 before beating all comers at the Nagano Olympics at 15, also the youngest-ever figure skater to win Olympic gold. (She also bested her U.S. teammate and expected frontrunner Michelle Kwan, who finished second.)

"To go out and skate the way that I did, which was the way that I trained, that's how every skater hopes to perform," she recalled to E! News ahead of the Beijing Games. "I remember my legs shaking as they called my name and that had never happened before. I thought, 'Oh, what do I do now? I need them!' But to then be able to skate the way that I did, I'll always remember not so much winning, but the moment the music ended and I was running across the ice, just the relief that I felt, the joy that I felt to skate well and have a good showing, but do it in front of millions of people at an Olympic Games."

She met her future husband, producer Todd Kapostasy, when she presented an award to him at the Sports Emmys in 2015, and they tied the knot two years later. They teamed up to produce the 2022 Peacock documentary Meddling, about the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics scoring scandal that resulted in two sets of gold medals being handed out in pairs skating.

"Skating has definitely made its mark when it comes to scandals," Lipinski told E!. "Obviously Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, and then the 2002 judging scandal. Hopefully that's in our past."

Sarah Hughes

Even for the dedicated figure skating fans whose viewing of the sport isn't relegated to the Winter Games every four years, Hughes seemingly came out of nowhere to dominate in Salt Lake City in 2002, winning gold in her Olympics debut with an infectiously joyful long program. (Seriously, the memory of the look in her eyes as it registered that she was in the middle of giving the performance of her life still resonates.)

You'd be forgiven for not initially betting on the 16-year-old, though. She was the 1998 U.S. junior champion, but was only the reigning bronze medalist at the 2001 World Championships when she made her first U.S. Olympic team. And even once she got there, she was fourth in the short program. Michelle Kwan, who was in the lead heading into the long program, ultimately took bronze.

In fact, Hughes remains the only American woman to have won Olympic figure skating gold but no national or world titles.

She went on to attend Yale, then law school at University of Pennsylvania, and is a practicing attorney in New York. She served as a representative of former first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Campaign and was part of the U.S. delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018. Last year, she meticulously documented her experience freezing her eggs on her website, noting that when the process was over, "Really looking forward to getting back on the ice once I get the all-clear."

Sasha Cohen

The 2006 national champion earned silver at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, and then took three years off from competition—though not from skating, performing on tour and at events such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting.

She almost made it to Vancouver in 2010, ending up as a team alternate after coming in fourth at the U.S. Championships, but then ultimately retired later that year.

Cohen made numerous TV appearances and she graduated from Columbia University in 2016 with a degree in political science. Having already published a memoir, Fire on Ice, when she was 19, she's been pretty open about the intense pressure she faced while competing.

"As a teenage athlete, you're hyper-focused on making and winning the Olympics, then often forced to retire at an early age," she told US Figure Skating Fan Zone in 2021. "You go from being really good at something in the spotlight with a ton of support, press and sponsorships, to being somebody of yesterday."

Last year she hosted Sasha Sessions: A Team USA Podcast, in which she interviewed guests including activists, artists, journalists and fellow Olympians such as Apolo Ohno, Adam Rippon and Laurie Hernandez.

Cohen married hedge fund manager Tom May in August 2016 but they divorced in 2018. Celebrating her birthday in October 2019, she wrote on Instagram, "I think I'm a little wiser, more resilient, and closer to figuring out (and prioritizing) the things that really matter in life." And in January 2020 she welcomed son Dashiell with fiancé Geoffrey Lieberthal.

Evan Lysacek

Following Brian Boitano's triumph in 1988, U.S. men's figure skating experienced a bit of an Olympics lull, with Paul Wylie's silver in 1992 and Timothy Goebel's bronze in 2002 the only evidence the American fellows were still fielding (rinking?) a team.

After just missing the podium in 2006, finishing fourth, two-time national champion Lysacek ended that gold medal drought in Vancouver in 2010 (where he shared some of the spotlight with his impeccably tailored Vera Wang costumes).

He finished second on Dancing With the Stars that spring and was named the U.S. Olympic Committee's SportsMan of the Year.

After retiring from skating, Lysacek began a career in commercial real estate (he also worked for Wang for a time in New York), and in 2019 married real estate developer Duangpatra Bodiratnangkura in a ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand.

"I cannot express enough how lucky I feel to have found my perfect match in this incredible girl," he told People of his then-fiancée. "She's extraordinary in every way and she makes me a better man."

Johnny Weir

The three-time national champion never medaled in his trips to the Olympics in 2006 and 2010, but his artistic flare and glam-rock style out on the ice always swept the honorary gold. 

Hence the combined 17 suitcases Weir said he and longtime NBC broadcasting partner Tara Lipinski were bringing to Beijing in 2022. "It's not as many as we've brought in the past, so I think we're maturing," he told E!'s Daily Pop. "Or we spend too much time together and I know exactly what's in her closet already."

The duo's chemistry and expertise have made their commentary must-watch parts of award show red carpet coverage, high-end dog shows, Super Bowl pre-game segments, the Kentucky Derby and—twist!—the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016. But at this time of year, their first love, figure skating, is all-consuming.

"You give us a screen with figure skating on it, and we'll both be out of our seats," Lipinski told E!. "I will be grabbing his hand."

Off the ice, Weir and Victor Voronov married in 2012 but then messily split up barely two years later. Weir remembered Lipinski being there for him when they worked their first Olympics together in Sochi in 2014.

"I was going through a really nasty divorce, and the only person I had to go through it with me was Tara," he told GQ in 2018. "And for a new friendship, that's a lot to expect somebody to put on her shoulders. But Tara was up with me as long as I needed her to be up with me; she helped push me through work. Somehow, at the same time my life was falling apart, we were crushing it at work, and we were winning hearts across America. That bonded us so quickly."

Meryl Davis and Charlie White

After earning silver in Vancouver, the six-time national and two-time world champions won the United States' first-ever gold medal in ice dancing in Sochi, where they also shared in team bronze. They may have broken a few shipping hearts when they insisted that they were not a romantic couple, but the longtime partners were over the moon about making history.

Davis won Dancing With the Stars months later and she and White hit the exhibition circuit before ultimately retiring in February 2017. She married retired Russian-Canadian figure skater Fedor Andreev in June 2019, taking their vows in a scenic ceremony in Provence, France.

"We just kept taking deep breaths and trying to take it in because I think that was one of the most impactful moments," the bride told Town & Country. "We'd been dating for a long time and we've loved one another for a long time, and yet the experience of sharing that moment with each other was so beautiful. It's probably my favorite memory ever up to this point."

A little cold, but wedding days will do that to a person, even an Olympic gold medalist.

White married retired Canadian-American ice dancer Tanith Melvin in 2015 and they have a son together. White has announced plans to open the Michigan Ice Dance Academy in 2022, and both he and Davis remain sought-after voices on the subject of skating and high-level competition.

"It's an interesting experience as a former athlete, as an Olympian, because when I was in it, it all made sense," Davis said in an Instagram Live session for Olympics.com when the Beijing Games were about a year away. "That's the world that you're in; that's the focus you have. And now I watch these incredible athletes and I think to myself, 'I don't know how I dealt with those nerves. I don't know how I had that focus.'"

Adam Rippon

The 2016 national champion didn't make the podium skating individually at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, but he did share in the U.S. team's bronze—and glided away with America's heart all the same with his passion, musicality, style, spirited social media posts and general joie de vivre.

He certainly caught Sally Field's son's eyeSam Greisman tweeting out a snippet of an exchange between he and his Oscar winner mom in which she encouraged him, "Sam... he's insanely pretty. Find a way."

After Pyeongchang, Rippon skated on over to Dancing With the Stars and won the whole thing, and ended up on TIME's list of the "100 Most Influential People of 2018." Ever since he's been balancing his work in entertainment (guest-hosting RuPaul's Drag Race, appearing in Taylor Swift's "You Need to Calm Down" video) and human rights activism.

He married husband Jussi-Pekka Kajaala on Dec. 31, 2021.

Talking about what he wanted to see from the Beijing Olympics, Rippon, who is now coaching first-time Olympian Mariah Belltold E! News in January, "What I hope that the audience remembers is that all these athletes are human and when we talk about them and we celebrate them, that they're going to see the way people talk about them. Just remember that these are people who worked their entire lives for these moments whether it goes the way they want it to or not. They work incredibly hard and they put their blood, sweat and tears and time into these moments."

Gracie Gold

The two-time national champion and CoverGirl spokeswoman shared the bronze with her fellow Americans in the inaugural team event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But while she was considered a favorite to make the team again for Pyeongchang in 2018, instead she pressed pause on her career to take time to heal.

She has since become even more well-known for her contributions to the ongoing conversation about the toll this level of competition can take on athletes' mental health. Speaking frankly about her struggles with an eating disorder, anxiety and depression, Gold recalled her lowest moments to the New York Times in 2019, explaining, "You want people to see your pain so they see you need help, but you don't want to ask for help. So you live in this kind of terrible limbo."

Along with Michael Phelps, Lolo Jones, Sasha Cohen and more, Gold participated in the 2020 documentary The Weight of Gold, about the various mental health challenges Olympic athletes face. Her attempt to make the 2022 U.S. Olympic team fell short when she finished 10th at nationals, but Gold joined the fun on Kevin Hart's Winter Olympics Tailgate Party, part of Peacock's 24/7 coverage of the Beijing Games, and she's working on a memoir.

Ashley Wagner

The three-time national champion shared team bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics but she missed making the U.S. team in 2018—and Wagner didn't hesitate to share her frustration, telling reporters she was "absolutely furious" about her scores at the U.S. Championships that January.

"What you see is what you get with me, and I pride myself on being honest and open," she said afterward on TODAY. "I think at the end of the day, based on the selection criteria, they absolutely made the right call with this team." She still questioned the consistency of the scoring, but ultimately accepted the results.

Recalling being asked how she felt just after finding out the results, Wagner said, "I think that I was just heartbroken. I mean, devastated. I had worked 22 years for that moment, and I had put out something that I felt so proud of."

She talked to NBC Sports in October about her latest chapter, studying psychology at Northeastern University with hopes of opening her own therapy practice one day and living in Boston with boyfriend Alex Clark, a middle school science teacher.

Wagner also was teaching a weekly Skate and Sculpt class at a local rink and did some youth coaching. "I feel like I am a part-time therapist, part-time technical coach," she explained. "It's a nice sweet spot to stay involved in the sport but not too involved." She's also been part of NBC Sports' U.S.-based Beijing Olympics coverage.

But as for competing, she acknowledged, "I never loved skating. I saw it as an opportunity, a means to an end. When I was done, I was really done."

Wherever their Olympic journeys led them, almost everyone mentioned was tuning in to watch their successors go for gold this past week.

Including Ashley Wagner, who on Monday shared some new photos she took with Brian Boitano on the set of NBC Sports' "Olympic Ice" coverage. They wore big smiles, but apparently in response to the news about Kamila Valieva, Wagner captioned the pics, "@brianboitano and I sliding into your DMs like [waving emoji]….Happy Valentine's Day! Skating broke my heart today so I'm officially switching sports."

And we'd expect nothing less from one of the countless skaters who left everything out on that ice.

(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)