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Lipinski is youngest to win skating gold

Tara Lipinski sparkled as if she were Tinker Bell, light as a wish, skimming the ice, hovering above it, and when the music ended she skipped across the rink laughing and crying in utter amazement.

All aglow in silver sequins that glistened like crystals, the tiny, 15-year-old sprite outshone an elegant Michelle Kwan and leapfrogged past her Friday night in one of the most dramatic duels ever to become the youngest Olympic figure skating champion in history.In winning the gold and silver, Lipinski and Kwan gave the United States its first one-two finish in women's figure skating since 1956 and pushed the U.S. medal total in these Winter Games to a record-tying 13.

Once long ago, Lipinski stood on Tupperware, a little girl pretending to be an Olympic champion. Now that her wish had come true, she ascended the podium as if she always knew she belonged there, and she wore a smile that wouldn't quit.

"I would have stayed out there all night if I could," Lipinski said, clutching and kissing her medal.

Kwan won't get that chance, and her heartbreak over the gold that got away was obvious.

China's Lu Chen completed her own journey of the heart, coming back from skating oblivion a few years ago to claim the bronze after a brilliant performance that left her in tears of joy.

All three women on the podium had been world champions - Chen in 1995, Kwan in 1996 and Lipinski in 1997 - and they formed perhaps the most talented triumvirate in skating history.

It was a night of beautiful skating all around - except for another round of tumbling that left Nicole Bobek in 17th place. But the beauty was eclipsed by the 30-minute drama that began when Kwan took the ice and ended when Lipinski finished.

Lipinski shrieked when she saw the final marks posted - six of the nine judges made her No. 1 - sprang from her chair, danced a little jig, and waved her arms ecstatically. She had surpassed Norway's Sonja Henie, two months older when she won in 1928, as the youngest Olympic figure skating champion.

Henie won two more Olympic golds, but for the moment Lipinski isn't thinking that far ahead. All she wants to do is cherish this triumph.