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California and the West

As Thousands Cheer, Skater Kwan Comes Home

Parade: Crowd shows appreciation for Olympic silver medal winner.

March 08, 1998|DIANA MARCUM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAKE ARROWHEAD — After the Olympics, figure skater Michelle Kwan appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and expressed her exasperation at the din of how-does-it-feel-to-lose-the-gold questions that had peppered her since the Nagano games.

"I didn't lose the gold. I won the silver," she said.

The folks here Saturday didn't need such a reminder.

A crowd of more than 2,000 lined the street to welcome back their home-grown heroine with an old-fashioned parade in her honor.

The 17-year-old figure skater rode in a horse-drawn fairy-tale-style carriage as the sun glinted off the Olympic silver medal she wore on a lavender ribbon around her neck.

"So many people, so many familiar faces," said Kwan, who had worried when she learned of Michelle Kwan Day that not many people would show up.

"I've never seen so many people in Lake Arrowhead. To see them all here supporting me--they don't care whether I brought home the gold or the silver. This is everything I could possibly want," she said.

Tom Massey, a Lake Arrowhead resident holding one side of a six-foot-long American flag, said he was at the parade because he thought he owed Kwan his support. "She practiced faithfully at this rink in our little community and now because of her hard work, our small village is part of an international scene," he said. "I've never met her, but her gold-like behavior when winning the silver made me so proud that she is from here."

At one point, a camera crew closed in and a reporter asked her about the one thing she wanted to tell people. "I'm home!" she shouted, raising her arms above her head.

After a snowstorm the night before, it was cold enough for the carriage driver to wear four pairs of thermal underwear under her velvet dress. But temperatures warmed from the 20s in the morning to the 40s when the afternoon parade began.

Onlookers waved American flags. Small girls wore skate dresses with their coats, mittens and ski hats.

Complete with the requisite marching band, the parade ended at Blue Jay Ice Castle, the public rink that is part of the skating center where Kwan trains.

Kwan was born in Torrance, but she mainly grew up in Blue Jay, a mountain hamlet of 600 residents that is part of Lake Arrowhead.

This is where her family moved after the 10-year-old with a long ponytail jumped with such strength and grace that she won a scholarship to the training center. This is where Kwan, as a 12-year-old, set up a pup tent in the frontyard so she would have a quiet place to study other than the one-room cottage her family stayed in when she trained.

After the parade the celebration continued, where else, but on the ice. Accolades and gifts included a congratulations note signed by President Clinton and a blue-and-silver letterman's jacket from the local Rim of the World High School for the teenager who couldn't be part of campus life because of her travel schedule.

Carol Probst, a former Ice Follies star who owns the training center, delivered a speech that brought tears to Kwan's eyes. "You have brought home our first medal. We love you from the bottom of our hearts and support you for just being Michelle," Probst said.

With that, fireworks went off and an Olympic banner went up. "This is particularly poignant," said Jack Chappell, president of the training center. He recalled the moment in Nagano when fellow American Tara Lipinski was awarded the gold medal and Kwan received the silver.

"Michelle said that when the flag was being raised at the Olympics award ceremony, she had a tear in her eye, partly because it was the 'Star-Spangled Banner,' but partly because it wasn't being played for her. So everyone here wanted to give her the 'Star-Spangled Banner' and fireworks this time only for her."

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