Two of the biggest stars of the PyeongChang Olympics didn’t take home a single medal — in fact, they didn’t compete at all.
Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir instead drew attention and praise not for their athletic ability (which both have showed off in Olympic games past), but for their commentary and chemistry in the broadcast booth.
“Tara and I are so serious about our sport, and bringing the ins and outs of the sport to the American viewer — no matter what event we’re doing,” Weir tells PEOPLE of the work that goes into their headline-making commentary, which is more blunt than figure skating commentary has been in years past. “We still bring the same gusto, fire and passion to our commentary so people can really understand what they’re watching.”
This weekend, Lipinski and Weir will take their talents to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, where they’ll cover the fashion and cultural side of the annual event for NBC for the fourth time. Beyond crazy hats, the two will also be bringing their incredible chemistry to the Derby, that was on display during primetime in PyeongChang. The duo were moved up to primetime coverage in 2018 after covering figure skating for NBCSN in 2014.
This year, they said their biggest challenge was getting an American audience to stay invested in a figure skating competition that didn’t feature many Americans as medal contenders — particularly in the ladies event, where Russians Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva led the pack.
“There was a lot of pressure on Tara and I to make an American audience care about two Russian teenagers,” Weir says. “It’s something that, especially considering the political climate and how the average person in the United States views Russia, was a tall order. But we knew we could rely on Alina and Evgenia to create an inspiring Olympic moment.”
But they’re not only counting on the skaters to deliver something captivating. They aim to provide it themselves, not only with their words, but their outfits, too, which have drawn comparisons to the Hunger Games.
“Skating is such a unique sport, and it is all about glitz and glamour,” Lipinski says. “So we say ‘let’s have fun with it.’ There are many sports commentators that will have as much fun with it as Johnny and I will.”
“We’re putting on a show. We want to entertain in anyway possible,” she adds. “We look at an event, and we just say ‘Glitter. It’s going to be glitter today.'”
Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir at the Olympics
Through the glitter and the honesty, they say they hope to push skating further into the public eye — and convert Olympic figure skating fans into viewers who tune in more often than every four years.
“We want to educate and we want to inform,” Weir says. “But we want to also bring skating to a younger demographic, and bring it back into people’s homes in a bigger way than it has been in the last decade.”
And even though now they’re utterly in sync in all they do — from their shared mission to propel skating forward to their matching sparkling microphones at the Olympics — Lipinski and Weir didn’t actually know each other while they were competing as figure skaters themselves. They bonded quickly after they were both hired as analysts for NBC.
“It’s meeting a friend and you feel like you’ve known them forever,” Lipinski says of their first meeting.
“At first, I was only hired to cover men’s [figure skating], and Tara was covering the ladies,” Weir adds. “But we had the crazy idea of putting ourselves together. We ran it by our producers and our bosses, and they said let’s give a try. Nobody threw us together on camera. We built it ourselves.”
Since then, they’ve become close friends outside of work, too. And Weir thinks it’s their organic relationship that is what audiences connect with.
“Everyone has a best friend that they love to gossip with,” he says. “And that’s exactly what Tara and I are. It’s you and your best friend, talking about figure skating in your living room with a glass of wine.”
You can see Lipinski and Weir take on the Kentucky Derby beginning Saturday at 2:30 pm ET on NBC.