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Kwan's Options

Village Is Out but Olympics Still Possible in the Future

February 07, 2002|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Will she or won't she?

Will Michelle Kwan, who was criticized for not staying in the Olympic village at the Nagano Games and supposedly depriving herself of the full Olympic experience, bunk with other U.S. athletes at Salt Lake City?

And will the six-time U.S. figure skating champion remain in the Olympic-eligible ranks after the Games? Or will she trade the pressure of performing triple-triple combination jumps and fending off younger rivals for the rigors of ice shows and occasional made-for-TV competitions?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Seriously, nearly everything the four-time world champion does is newsworthy. Kwan, favored at Salt Lake City to win the gold medal that eluded her four years ago, offered hints on both fronts during a lengthy conversation several weeks ago:

* She won't stay in the Olympic village at the University of Utah but intends to march in the opening ceremony. "It's going to be fun, in the U.S., a hop skip and a jump away," she said.

* After this season, she might take a sabbatical from Olympic-eligible events or reduce her schedule while keeping her eligibility, as Todd Eldredge did in 1999 and 2000. She will compete at Salt Lake City without a coach, having ended a nearly decade-long alliance with Frank Carroll in October, but has considered taking on a new coach someday to guide her along whatever path she chooses.

"It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years, who I will end up taking [lessons] from, if I'm taking from a coach, or what will happen," she said. "I can go to different people and sample, test who I'm comfortable with....

"Maybe I'll stay in and only do certain competitions, like nationals and worlds and not necessarily do all the international competitions. That's where it gets chaotic. It takes the whole months of October, November, December, and it is rough on the body, especially being on tour.

"I don't think I've ever announced anything like, 'I'm turning professional,' because it shuts the door on opportunity. For me, it doesn't seem the professional life is any different from what I'm doing. I'm doing programs. I'm doing shows. I'm doing tours. I don't know if I'd be able to do more if I were professional. People think when you're professional, you take it easier, but that's not true. Sometimes I look at Brian [Boitano], and he's just amazing because he trains the same amount, like he's competing for the Olympics."

While athletes' accommodations at the Olympics aren't usually an issue unless they trash the premises, Kwan's living quarters became something of an issue at Nagano after she was upset by compatriot Tara Lipinski.

While Kwan skipped the opening ceremony to get treatment on her injured left foot and moved into a hotel with her family, Lipinski was pictured having a fine time. The 15-year-old marched in the opening ceremony, perched on the lap of Hawaiian-born Japanese sumo wrestler Akebono and generally soaked up the Olympic atmosphere, a contrast to Kwan's business-like approach.

After Lipinski's spirited performance in the free skate had lifted her past Kwan and to the top step of the medal podium, second-guessers speculated that Kwan had been uptight because she hadn't allowed herself to have fun at the Games. If she had relaxed a bit more, according to that line of reasoning, she might have been more uninhibited in the free skate and might have won.

Nonsense, Kwan said. She has no regrets about opting for the privacy of a hotel instead of being assigned to share a room or suite with another female U.S. figure skater at the athletes' village, and she will have a similar arrangement at Salt Lake City. Lipinski, incidentally, also spent time in a hotel before the competition.

After Kwan marches in the opening ceremony, however, she will return home to practice at Lake Arrowhead for at least a few days. The Games start Friday, but the women's competition doesn't begin until Feb. 19, with the short program.

"I wouldn't change anything," she said of her Nagano arrangements. "For me, it was important that I had enough ice time before I left and that I could be in my comfortable surroundings. Everybody was sick in the village. And I wanted my parents around. I wanted to be able to do things, to go shopping or whatever.

"Other athletes did it, but I'm the only one who spoke up about it. I don't want to name names, but they didn't stay at the village, either.

"Just the fact that at every other competition I don't have a roommate, it's very difficult to have a roommate and adjust to different time schedules. I did what I thought would work best for me."

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