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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Chasing Ice Dreams

March 17, 1998|ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's too early to tell if Andrey Chua has the talent to become an Olympic ice princess. She's only 11, after all.

But early progress points to a royal future for Chua, whose rapid rise in figure skating began through circumstances related to the Northridge earthquake.

Chua, of Sun Valley, has shaken up the sport by winning her past six competitions at the intermediate level to qualify for the Junior Olympics starting today in Plano, Texas.

"She has great potential," said Susan Berens, one of Chua's coaches at the Iceoplex in North Hills. "She's very focused at what she does."

Already able to perform difficult triple jumps, Chua might never have laced up a pair of skates if not for the 1994 earthquake. Damage to the Van Nuys YMCA temporarily left Chua and her three siblings with no place to continue their swimming, karate and gymnastics classes.

Elizabeth Chua was looking for alternative activities for her children when she drove past the Iceoplex while running an errand.

"Why don't we try this?" she said to herself.

The Chua children--Andrey, twin sister Anne and brothers Jonathan, 15, and Virgil, 10--gave up their other sports. All of them are still skating, but Andrey has shown the most promise, quickly advancing from group lessons to individual coaching costing $1 a minute.

The financial demands placed on the family forced Elizabeth to get a job as a restaurant cook. She rises at 5 every weekday morning to get her children to skating practice, heads to work in Los Angeles and picks up the kids after school for another practice session. Virgil Chua, an engineer for a communication products company, helps out when he can.

"They give up a lot," Berens said of the parents.

Chua, a sixth-grader at St. Genevieve, hopes to follow the tracks of her idol, Michelle Kwan, the silver medalist at the Nagano Olympics.

"It's hard and challenging, and it's enjoyable," she said of her long hours on the ice.

Because of a new rule preventing athletes under 16 from competing in the Olympics, Chua won't have a chance to make the U.S. team for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

In the meantime, she is hoping to place in the top four finishers at the Junior Olympics and qualify for her first international competition.

Elizabeth Chua says she won't push Andrey to become the next Tara Lipinski, who, at 15, became the youngest gold medalist in Olympic figure skating.

"She dreams about [the Olympics]," Elizabeth said, "but . . . she has to work hard."

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