NBC promoting Weir, Lipinski to top skating team

NEW YORK (AP) NBC's top pairs figure skating couple is in place: Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir.

After attracting attention for their rapport and fashion sense in an understudy role at the Sochi Olympics, Lipinski and Weir were promoted by NBC on Wednesday to its top figure skating broadcast team.

With figure skating the marquee sport during the Winter Games, the promotion will make the former Olympians two of TV's most visible personalities in 2018 in South Korea. They'll team with play-by-play announcer Terry Gannon, starting their new role Sunday during NBC's telecast of the Skate America competition.

''Give us one minute or an hour, we are going to be up,'' Weir said. ''That is all we can be is up.''

They replace Scott Hamilton, Sandra Bezic and Tom Hammond, who were NBC's lead figure skating announcers at four Olympics starting in 2002. Hamilton, a 1984 gold medalist who called three other Winter Olympics for CBS, will remain as a special contributor to NBC at big figure skating events, including in South Korea. Hammond will work as a track and field announcer at the 2016 Rio Games.

''We absolutely cherish this opportunity to bring figure skating to people,'' said Weir, a three-time U.S. champion. ''When we talk it is more like a conversation between us and the audience.''

Weir and Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist at age 15, became an instant sensation in Sochi last winter, when they called live daytime broadcasts with Gannon on NBC Sports' cable network. Many viewers tuned in particularly to see what outrageous outfit Weir would be wearing. Hamilton, Bezic and Hammond handled the tape-delayed prime-time telecast on NBC.

''We take skating very seriously,'' Lipinski said, ''but at same time you really want to be real about what the sport is. If you call it as you see it, I think that is what the audience likes, and Johnny and I have to keep on that path.''

After the Olympics, Weir and Lipinski contributed to fashion coverage at the Academy Awards and Kentucky Derby.

''Any additional events are just icing on the cake,'' Lipinski said.

Asked about their announcing influences, Lipinski mentioned Hamilton and Dick Button, while weir joked ''100 percent Kim Kardashian.'' Then he spoke about Button, and about how listening to Verne Lundquist call the 1994 Games helped inspire him as a skater.

Jim Bell, the network's executive producer for the Olympics, said Hamilton will still have a major role.

''I think that given the amount of coverage we do not just of competition but the way the entire company gets behind the Olympics,'' Bell said, ''there is no shortage of need for someone who has experience and stature to talk about the sport. We will be able to keep Scott very busy.''

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