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Winter Olympics 1988 | RANDY HARVEY

Kwan's Dad Has Also Paid His Dues

February 20, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

NAGANO, Japan — Danny Kwan's father, Ho Yuen, was sold when he was 4 years old to a farmer in Canton, China, who needed someone to watch his cows, then bought back when he was 10 by a rich uncle.

Ho Yuen went to Hong Kong in 1949 to look for work in a restaurant, leaving behind a wife, Yang Chun, who was seven months pregnant.

He said he would send for them when he had enough money, but, within a few months, China's borders were shut. Not until 1956 was Yang Chun allowed to join Ho Yuen in Hong Kong and their young son, Danny, was able to meet his father.

Danny grew up poor in Hong Kong, dropped out of school before the eighth grade and learned a trade through working for the telephone company.

He immigrated in 1971 to the United States, where he worked as a busboy at a Hollywood restaurant for a year while saving enough money to buy into a Chinese restaurant in Torrance, the Golden Pheasant.

After two years as a cook and waiter, he bought out his partners, brought his parents to Torrance to run the restaurant and went to work for Pacific Bell in Gardena. In 1974, he returned to Hong Kong to marry his childhood sweetheart, Estella, and brought her to Torrance.

They had three children.

On Friday night, the youngest, Michelle, 17, is favored to join Tenley Albright, Carol Heiss, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill and Kristi Yamaguchi among the pantheon of women from the United States who have won the Olympic gold medal in women's figure skating.

"It's the American dream, isn't it?" Danny Kwan said.

Kwan repeated his family history Thursday while sitting in the upper deck of White Ring arena, thankful for the distraction from a practice session involving the first six finishers from the previous night's short program. Michelle was first, and her primary competitor, fellow American Tara Lipinski, was second.

He usually is so nervous during practices that he can't sit with Estella. This one was no exception. He looked as though he couldn't wait to go outside for a smoke.

It will cost him. Michelle, exasperated after years of nagging him to quit smoking, started fining him a couple of years ago--$20 per cigarette.

"I figure I owe her about $60,000," he said.

"I lied to her a couple of times. I told her I'd quit if she finished in the top six at the national championships in 1993. I didn't. I told her I'd quit if she finished in the top three in 1994. I didn't.

"Maybe if she wins here . . ."

When I met Danny for the first time at the family restaurant in 1993, the first year Michelle was a senior skater, I found him to be quite different from the man I had been told to expect.

He had a reputation as a Little League father, a man who rushed Michelle onto figure skating's treacherous fast track, but he had reformed by then.

Then, as now, he enjoyed philosophizing on a variety of subjects, including parenting. What I liked about him is that he openly confessed he had no clue whether his theories were correct.

His job as a parent, he believed, was complicated by the fact he had two daughters, Michelle and Karen, who were exceptional figure skaters.

He didn't plan for that to happen.

One day, they were begging to learn to skate after watching their older brother, Ron, play ice hockey. The next, he was rising before dawn to drive them from Torrance to Lake Arrowhead for lessons, driving down the mountain for work in Gardena, driving back to Lake Arrowhead in the evening to retrieve them, then driving to Torrance.

It was a huge investment of his dollars, so much so that he once offered his daughters $50 a day not to skate because it would save him money, and his time. In return, he demanded results.

It was during that period, before his daughters received scholarships to Ice Castles International and began living at Lake Arrowhead, that Danny arrived at a very important conclusion.

That probably has as much to do as anything with the fact that Michelle not only is close to winning a gold medal here but also appears to be a content, well-adjusted teenager.

He would always be there to drive the car for his daughters, he promised himself, but Michelle and Karen would drive their figure skating careers.

Danny recalls specifically the night his eyes were opened.

On the eve of Michelle's first appearance in the national championships as an 11-year-old junior in 1992, Danny, sharing a hotel room with her in Orlando, Fla., suddenly was awakened when she began tossing and turning and talking in her sleep.

"She was saying, 'It's nothing, it's nothing,' repeating words I'd been telling her about the competition to take the pressure off of her," he said. "That's when I realized how much pressure she really was under, how tortured she was.

"I got up and paced the rest of the night. I hated myself for what I was doing to her.

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