Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski stole a great deal of the spotlight, sporting sartorial sizzle and offering pointed opinions during the Sochi Winter Olympics. Their transition to horse racing coverage at the Kentucky Derby should be flawless.
Of course, the tandem will refrain from offering opinions on which horse deserves your bet and concentrate on the fashion streaming through the gates, arguably as big an aspect of Saturday as the preliminary races.
Big hats and grand outfits will be pored over for hours before the greatest two minutes in sports gets underway, so it makes perfect sense to have a delightful duo fill that time.
Sports Illustrated reported last week that NBC is adding Weir and Lipinski to the broadcast of this Saturday's Kentucky Derby, adding the following:
Their addition reflects how the Derby has become one of the most female-friendly televised sports events of the year. Last year's race was the second most-watched Kentucky Derby in 25 years; 51 percent of the viewers were women.
Not that you have to be a woman to enjoy the two, because our own enjoyment of ice skating coverage throughout the Sochi Games was made all the more enjoyable with the two in the booth.
When the main race takes all of a couple of minutes, the ongoing coverage is normally filled with speculation as well as a great deal of people-watching. Weir and Lipinski fit in there somewhere. Thankfully, the two give a bit of insight on what to expect this weekend.
The two budding broadcast stars spoke with Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch on their upcoming gig. Weir had this to say:
I think our role is to bring some fun and light to the Kentucky Derby broadcast. That's what I think we were able to accomplish at the Olympics and I think NBC saw that and knew we could bring some fun and charm to the Kentucky Derby -- or at least some more. Our overall duties will be reporting on the culture and style of the event. Tara and I are both equestrian enthusiasts so we really respect the horse lifestyle. I think we can culturally speak about the Kentucky Derby, and me having been there, I can impart my experiences to Tara before we go so she knows what to expect.
I think Johnny and I can bring the full feel of what the Kentucky Derby has to offer. I feel like the great thing about Johnny and I is the public can relate to us. It's what they would want to see when they turn on the TV to watch the Kentucky Derby. It's exactly what Johnny and I would do if we were there -- commenting on the fashion and the parties and what is happening around the horse racing.
So the tandem will yield exactly what you might expect—a fun look at the party aspect of the horse racing festivities, which is something they should be able to pull off quite well with the television audience.
The Associated Press' David Bauer (h/t ABC News.com) highlighted two former athletes who are now garnering a great deal of attention for how they handle color commentary of pop culture and the sports world. Bauer spoke with the coordinating producer for the NBC Sports Group, Rob Hyland.
Hyland had this to say on selecting Weir and Lipinski: "It's not just a two-minute race. Of course, the two-minute race is extremely important, but our job is to capture the venue and the day — it's a huge celebration — as creatively and poignantly as possible."
Awful Announcing's Matt Yoder heaped high praise on the two:
The pair were a hit for their live figure skating commentary during the Winter Olympics. Not only did they bring a cutting edge and real criticism and analysis to a profession that’s little more than willowy fluff, they did so with plenty of humor and charm.
There will be those who obviously tune in right as the Kentucky Derby is about to take place, enjoying the main event over other fare.
And then there are those who take in every last part of the remaining hours of coverage, savoring the spectacle amid the sport.
It's not an unsubstantial part of the day. In fact, it's as much a part of the Kentucky Derby as the horses. To capture the intangible party atmosphere, you need commentators who resonate with fans.
NBC certainly has just that with Lipinski and Weir, two former athletes who will shine again on Saturday.