Originally created 03/02/98

Houston, Tara has landed

HOUSTON -- Riding in a horse-drawn carriage while thousands cheered and bands played, figure skating sweetheart Tara Lipinski finally came home Sunday.

And now the 15-year-old gold medalist would like to take a break from the world of limos and luxury and simply relax and play with her dogs.

"It's so great to be back home," she said at Bush Intercontinental Airport to the cheers of hundreds of fans.

A little more than a week after fulfilling her dream in Japan, Lipinski flashed her trademark smile and walked off the plane with her parents to the strains of the Olympic theme song.

Houston Mayor Lee Brown presented her with a bouquet of yellow roses as the crowd waved American flags and hoisted signs reading, "Welcome to Tara-tory."

"She's made all of Houston proud," said 13-year-old Casey Kimsey.

At a brief ceremony in the airport terminal, Brown presented Lipinski with a key to the city and read a proclamation declaring March 1 "Tara Lipinski Day."

"We are proud to honor and celebrate your achievement, and to show you in a big, big way that we are Houston proud," Brown said. "You've shown the world what Houstonians are made of."

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, also presented Lipinski with an American flag that has flown over the Capitol, calling her "a champion for all Americans and for all young people."

Afterward, Lipinski was whisked away in a stretch limousine to a victory parade in her hometown of Sugar Land, a Houston suburb. She rode down the streets in a horse-drawn carriage as thousands of well-wishers cheered and waved.

The parade included several local high school bands, floats and mascots from Houston's professional sports teams and several past Olympic champions.

Lipinski, whose performance in Nagano made her the youngest individual gold medalist in any Winter Games and an overnight celebrity, said she still can't believe her dream finally came true.

"It seems so strange. I'm still in a little shock, but it's great," she said, adding, "A lot more people are asking for my autograph."

After leaving Japan, Lipinski spent a whirlwind week in New York, where she made the rounds of the talk-show circuit and was a presenter at the Grammy Awards.

While all that was "pretty cool," Lipinski said she was glad to finally be home. Her schedule over the next few days includes relaxing and playing with her five dogs.

"It's just good to be home and be with my family and spend time with them," she said.

After a few days of rest, Lipinski said she will continue training for the world championships, which begin March 31 in Minneapolis.

While Lipinski heads into the competition as both the Olympic champion and the defending world champion, she said she does not feel any additional pressure.

"I feel even less pressure because the Olympics was my ultimate dream," she said. "I always wanted the Olympic gold, and now that I've got it, I feel almost relieved. That was my ultimate goal."


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