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FIGURE SKATING NOTES

Clark Has New View in His 30s

January 08, 2002|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 15 years of competitive figure skating, Shepherd Clark is finally enjoying the U.S. championships.

That he will be the oldest skater in the men's competition, which starts tonight with the short program, doesn't bother him.

"To come back to this atmosphere is great. This is not a threat to me," said Clark, who is two months short of 31, five months older than Todd Eldredge.

"I could take it or leave it. I'm not defined by figure skating. I used to be.... People ask me, 'Why are you still skating?' I've had no sponsorship help. No financial help. No medical help. No one believes in me. But I believe."

A Boston native who splits his time between his hometown and Atlanta, Clark was the 1989 U.S. junior champion and finished second that year in the world junior championships.

His best result at the senior national level was fourth in 1998; he was fifth in 1999 but had to withdraw from the 2000 competition because of injuries and didn't compete last year.

For Clark, who designs jewelry and works for an energy company, religious faith helped him persevere through back injuries that led doctors to say he'd never skate again. Having a greater purpose helps too: He has sponsored several children in impoverished countries through World Vision, a faith-based organization that helps children around the world, and he hopes his skating can raise money and promote that cause.

"Anything I do here will be a blessing," Clark said Monday after practicing his long program at Staples Center. "People tell me, 'You're 30 years old. Get on with your life.' But it's what's here and here that matter," he said, pointing to his head and his heart.

"I look at skating as one of many things in my life. There's an addiction one has to the stimulus created by this atmosphere. I'm thankful that I have this.... I had some years of depression, when I thought about suicide and made one attempt, but God prevented that. It's like I've been a broken vessel and God put the pieces back together and let the light shine through."

Clark, who qualified by finishing fourth at the Eastern sectional competition, said he has been working on a quadruple loop and hopes to try it in his long program. "I'd like to see the face of [TV skating commentator] Dick Button if I do it here," Clark said, "because he was the first to do the triple loop in competition [at the 1952 Olympics]. That would really be great."

*

Michael Weiss, who was fourth at last year's U.S. championships and didn't qualify for the world team, said he's not discouraged by his inconsistent season.

"In 10 years, nobody is going to remember who won the Nations Cup," he said, referring his shaky eighth-place finish at that Grand Prix event in November.

"They're going to remember who won nationals and who won medals at the Olympics. Subconsciously, I know that, and the big events are in the next month and a half."

To prepare for the U.S. competition, which will determine the U.S. team for the Salt Lake City Winter Games, Weiss said he lost 13 pounds over the last two months. He usually carries 165 pounds on his 5-foot-8 frame, but he's about 150 now.

"I don't want to look back and say, 'I didn't do this or that.' I was 100% at the Olympics and I gave it my best shot," he said.

"I want to be able to look back in a couple of years, when I'm pushing 200 [pounds] and say, 'Look how skinny I was at the Olympics.'"

*

Angela Nikodinov was the only competitor among the top women to take advantage of the first official free-skating practice Monday at the Sports Arena.

The women's competition begins Thursday.

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