Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski are changing the face — or rather, the voice — of figure skating commentary.
After a successful run in Sochi as commentators for NBC Sports Network, the pair were bumped up to primetime in Pyeongchang, serving as the lead commentators for NBC’s men’s singles, ladies’ singles and pairs skating (former skater Scott Hamilton and Tanith White, who won the silver medal for ice dance in 2006, commentate for ice dancing) alongside their less bedazzled fellow commentator Terry Gannon, who is announcer on the Golf Channel during the Olympic off-season.
It goes without saying that Weir and Lipinski, who recently told GQ they cemented their friendship after a weeklong stint for Universal Sports in 2010 that ended in foot rubs, are different from other figure skating commentators.
For starters, they wear bedazzled headsets and coordinating outfits. And we’re not talking simply similar colors. They rock matching sequined ensembles with bold accessories. For the final night of the team competition, Weir wore a jeweled collar covered in massive stones, while Lipinski was in a one-shouldered dress, every inch of it covered in silver sequins. Their wardrobe is a major part of what they’re known for as a team, and it takes over 20 suitcases to fit it all.
Their eye-catching ensembles got them attention and won them fans. But what accompanies their over-the-top outfits is their equally expressive commentary, and that’s what’s so notable about Lipinski and Weir’s partnership. With it, they’re breaking new ground for figure skating commentary.
In the past, commentary has been mostly forgettable, a basic summary of what’s going on on the ice peppered with compliments. Lipinski and Weir take a different approach. They’re blunt and don’t mince words. If something goes poorly — and of course, it often does — they will tell it like it is.
“That’s the worst short program I’ve ever seen from Nathan Chen,” Weir remarked after Team USA superstar skater Chen fell in his short program during the team competition. “Disastrous.” His remarks about the rest of the men in the short program (who, by all accounts, had a rough night, with several falls in the mix) were equally honest: “This men’s final group was an all-star list, but nobody skated up to their names.”
The reaction has (mostly) been overwhelmingly positive, to both their outfits and their commentary. “I don’t know what I’m looking forward more,” one commenter wrote on Weir’s Instagram. “The skating, or your commenting!”
Another thanked the pair for not only their critiques, but their expert knowledge of the sport: “It’s refreshing,” one Twitter user wrote. “It’s also educational. Too often when watching it’s hard to tell what is good and not good if the commentators over compliment.”
But of course, they haven’t gone through the first few days of competition without facing at least a few critics. With such a switch in the tone of past days of figure skating commentary, it’s been an adjustment for some fans. People have called them nasty and blasted their sometimes harsh criticism. “Have they forgotten what it’s like to be on the ice?” one Olympics spectator tweeted. “Enough with the nasty comments. Be constructive!”
Weir hit back at his critics, saying that he was there to comment on the events — not shower praise.
“I’m a commentator, not a ‘complimentator,’” he wrote in a tweet. “Explaining falls and rough skates is hard because I have been that skater, and truth can hurt. But I would never be able to do my job without telling the truth about every aspect of figure skating and the performances you’ll see.”
I’m a commentator, not a “complimentator.” Explaining falls and rough skates is hard because I have been that skater, and truth can hurt. But I would never be able to do my job without telling the truth about every aspect of figure skating and the performances you’ll see.
— Johnny Weir (@JohnnyGWeir) February 10, 2018
The pair – who are known to most as simply “Tara and Johnny” — aren’t ones to let their haters get to them. They’ve become known for their style of commentating in the years since Sochi, and have decided to put honesty above all else.
“For some reason, we just don’t care,” Lipinski told the Wall Street Journal. “We tell it like it is.”
Beyond the (literal) sparkle and the unprecedented talk in the broadcast booth, there’s something else that sets Weir and Lipinski apart in the crowd of commentators at the Olympics: Their chemistry.
They’re self-proclaimed best friends who do, if not everything, then a whole lot together. On the professional front, outside of figure skating, they have a podcast (fittingly called Tara and Johnny), appear in commercials and an episode of Lip Sync Battle together and, offer commentary for non-skating events, like the Kentucky Derby and the National Dog Show. Off hours, they’re just good friends — so close that Weir served as a “bridesman” in Lipinski’s 2017 wedding to husband Todd Kapostasy.
“He’s my very best friend,” Lipinski told PEOPLE. “We’ve been through a lot of great times and a lot of horrible times together, and I think we just have this special bond that is hard to find.”