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Lipinski To Join Stars on Ice Tour

August 20, 1998 GMT

Olympic figure skating champions Tara Lipinski and Ilia Kulik will be joining the same professional tour, Scott Hamilton’s Stars on Ice, the skaters said Wednesday.

Kulik, however, will not surrender his Olympic eligibility, which Lipinski did soon after winning at the Nagano Games.

By joining Stars on Ice, which enters its 13th season this year, Kulik does not relinquish his eligibility. Only if he competes in an event not sanctioned by the International Skating Union would the Russian champion become ineligible for worlds and the Olympics.

``I am choosing the pro-am way and will keep my options open,″ Kulik said. ``But I am off the world championships track for this season. I will do the seven pro-ams that are available to keep eligible.″

Kulik tentatively is scheduled to compete in the ISU-approved Grand Slam of Figure Skating on Sept. 25-26 in Charleston, S.C., then in the Nice ’n Easy Figure Skating Classic on Oct. 3-4 in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Lipinski competed in several unsanctioned events earlier this year, losing her eligibility.

Lipinski and Kulik will join the tour headed by Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Kurt Browning and Ekaterina Gordeeva next month for rehearsals in Simsbury, Conn. The official announcement by International Management Group, which owns the tour, is not expected until next month.

``I joined with Stars because it is a great opportunity waiting for me,″ Lipinski said, ``and it’s time for me to expand artistically. And doing those group numbers will be so much fun. I’ve watched the show for years and that has been my favorite thing.″

Lipinski could have opted for the other major professional show, Tom Collins’ Champions on Ice, in which she has skated ever since bursting onto the scene in 1995. That show tours after the Olympic-eligible figure skating season, which ends in late March, while Stars on Ice opens on Thanksgiving weekend and closes in the spring.

But she has worked closely with Stars on Ice director Sandra Bezic, who put together Lipinski’s Olympic free skate, and choreographer Lea Ann Miller.

``Because I’ve worked with Lea Ann, and Sandra did the long program for the Olympics, it makes me feel at home.″

Ever since her sensational victory at Nagano to become, at 15, the youngest Olympic figure skating champion, Lipinski has been raking in the endorsements. She currently has deals with CBS-TV, Snapple, DKNY, DeBeers Company (diamonds) and Capezio. She is doing promotional work for ESPN and collaborating on a third book, this one an instructional book.

Her net worth has been estimated in the eight-figure range, possibly as high as $12 million.

Kulik doesn’t have nearly that kind of earnings or drawing power. Joining Stars on Ice is the first major move he’s made since his powerful performance at Nagano.

``I want to create a great show, that is basically the plan,″ Kulik said. ``There is a lot of opportunity in Stars on Ice. They have a special lighting director and good choreographers and a special costume designer and special music director.

``In stars there are the greatest skaters ever in entertainment and as athletes, and it will be great experience for me. That’s what really made my decision easy.″

With Kulik and Philippe Candeloro turning pro _ Candeloro has no plans to compete on the Olympic level again _ and Elvis Stojko vacillating on his future, the men’s figure skating field has been thinned considerably. That’s hardly unusual after an Olympics.

Among the women, Lipinski and Lu Chen have become professionals, leaving two-time world champion Michelle Kwan with virtually no challengers.