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World's Top Figure Skaters to Make It Look Ice and Easy

July 04, 1996|LIBBY SLATE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Michelle Kwan, the 1996 world and national figure-skating champion from Torrance, turns 16 Sunday and expects to find 16,000 people on hand for the occasion. She will be performing that afternoon with more than two dozen other top skaters at the Pond of Anaheim, on the Tour of World Figure Skating Champions.

Kwan's cast mates include current world champion and U.S. silver medalist Todd Eldredge, reigning U.S. champion Rudy Galindo, last year's world champions Lu Chen and Elvis Stojko and 1994 Olympic gold medalists Oksana Baiul, Alexei Urmanov and ice dancers Oksana Grischuk and Evgeny Platov. Also on hand are past Olympic champs Brian Boitano, Viktor Petrenko and ice dancers Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko.

They will present exhibition numbers to music ranging from show tunes (Kwan skates to "Just Around the River Bend" from the film "Pocahontas" and Eldredge to "This Is the Moment" from the stage musical "Jekyll and Hyde") to pop (Grischuk and Platov's "You'll See" to music by Madonna and Boitano's "Don't Cry" with music by Seal) to classical (Galindo's routine to "Ave Maria").

*

Kwan is looking forward to her homecoming. "It's nice to perform [there] because I see familiar faces everywhere in the audience," she said recently, on the tour bus after a show in Minneapolis. "I've probably bumped into them in the supermarket. They give me a good, warm welcome. They support me."

Her success this year--the two titles, competition and tour earnings in the six figures, as well as audience cheers throughout the tour--has not gone to her head, Kwan said.

"Once we step off the ice, we're regular people," she said. "You have to put it in perspective. On the ice, you may think of yourself as a queen, but off the ice I'm just Michelle."

Kwan is not the tour's only California resident. Current U.S. pair champions and world bronze medalists Jenni Meno and Todd Sand train in Costa Mesa. Klimova and Ponomarenko live in Lake Arrowhead, while Chen divides her training time between Burbank and her native China. Boitano lives in San Francisco, Galindo in San Jose.

This year's tour is the longest yet--76 shows in 112 days--and pampers the skaters even more than usual; besides first-class hotel accommodations and backstage workout and game equipment, executive producer Tom Collins has chartered planes occasionally to avoid long bus rides.

All hasn't been good news for this tour. Five minutes before a June 1 performance in Chicago, Collins' brother Harris, the tour's producer-director, collapsed and died of a heart attack at age 49.

"Everybody's been affected," said Eldredge, who had known Collins for six years. "He was always such a character. He lightened everything up, especially if it was a tough day. He rode over on the bus with us, and he looked fine. It's unbelievable."

In the show-must-go-on tradition, no performances were canceled.

* What: The Tour of World Figure Skating Champions.

* When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

* Where: The Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave.

* Whereabouts: Exit the Orange (57) Freeway at Ball Road; go east. Turn right onto Auto Center Drive toward parking lots.

* Wherewithal: $30-$45.

* Where to call: (714) 740-2000.

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