Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski explains what it was like competing at 15: 'I felt like if I didn't win my career would be over'

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Women's figure skating at the Olympics has long been dominated by teenagers. At the past two Winter Games in Sochi and Pyeongchang, the gold medal was won by 15-year-olds. And Russia's 15-year-old Kamila Valiyeva is the favorite to win this year.

Calling the competition will be NBC Sports figure skating analyst Tara Lipinski, who herself also won gold at 15 while representing the United States in Nagano in 1998. And Lipinski says that young athletes face a different sort of pressure than older competitors.

"The reality was I was a kid at the Olympics," Lipinski tells CNBC Make It. "If you had asked me at 12 or 13 or 14, I would have said '100% this is my job, this is my career, it's everything I want.'"

The reality was I was a kid at the Olympics.
Tara Lipinski
Olympic Gold Medalist

Lipinski says that because she started skating when she was 3 and the sport was "all I knew," she placed an unreasonable amount of pressure on herself to succeed.

"Many times over my career, I don't think I was able to understand that there was so much more outside of figure skating because it was all that I did and all that I knew," she says. "And so the lows were much lower, because to me at the time, sometimes I felt like if I didn't win my career would be over."

Now 39, the champion skater says that as she got older she was able to find "other things in life" that brought her fulfillment beyond skating.

"Being so young, you have a different mindset and you just don't have the life experience or perspective that you do as an adult that definitely helps balance out the pressure," Lipinski says.

Even though she's not skating anymore, Lipinski still likes to challenge herself by picking "impossible things to do" and see if she can accomplish them.

"I don't think that I could wake up and just be happy without having something to work toward," she says. "It's fun, even if it doesn't always go your way."

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