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U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS | Bill Plaschke

Kwan Detractors Need to Grow Up

January 09, 2002|Bill Plaschke

To that blade-sharp heart, that sequined ego, that Cruella de Kwan, I have only three words.

You go, girl. Such is our greeting to the scarves and smirks of the skating world, in town and all atwitter about the latest ice opera.

Michelle Kwan canned longtime coach Frank Carroll!

Their Gipper dumped their Rockne!

Less than three months before this week's national championships!

The horror!

The shame!

The hypocrisy.

Folks fret that skating championships are dominated by too many pigtails and braces and immaturity.

Yet when skating's most visible star makes a bold adult decision, they scold her for not remaining a child.

The way Kwan has been treated, you would have thought she had just received a major misconduct for slashing her teddy bear. Hey, it wasn't as if she took a lead pipe to the guy's knees or anything.

A couple of months ago, Kwan, who is 21, decided that her decade-long association with Carroll wasn't working.

The esteemed coach is considered one of the best in the history of the sport. With him, Kwan had won five U.S. titles and four world championships.

But she didn't win the big one, finishing second in the 1998 Winter Olympics to that ragamuffin Tara something-or-another.

Ten years is a long time without winning the big one.

In fact, despite his worldwide renown, Carroll has never won the big one.

Lots of coaches are fired in lots of places for not winning the big one.

Kwan kept Carroll for exactly as long as the Minnesota Vikings kept Dennis Green.

Yet the Vikings were criticized for their patience, while Kwan is being ripped for her petulance.

OK, so football is not figure skating. So maybe that analogy is as silly as comparing Sasha Cohen to a linebacker.

But it unquestionably helps when the person doing the firing is a male. Just ask Tiger Woods who, in March of 1999, fired popular caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan.

The furor over that lasted about five minutes.

People will be whispering about Kwan for five months.

This, even though Kwan is grown up enough to earn about $5 million a year in endorsements while behaving like a model citizen during her years in the national spotlight.

In the skating world, Kwan is Tiger Woods.

Except when she makes a tough corporate decision, in which case, she's a typical spoiled little girl, right?

"I never thought it could be such a big deal," Kwan said Tuesday in a news conference. "I mean, for me it was a big deal. But for outsiders, I never thought it would be that big."

The biggest deal, of course, is that she will compete in the Olympics without a coach. Which has folks asking the question, has anyone ever won an Olympic figure skating medal without a coach?

The compelling answer is, nobody has a definitive answer.

The coach's name doesn't appear in the record books. The coach doesn't stand on the medal podium.

And, of course, the coach runs absolutely no risk of falling on his butt.

"A lot of it has to be within," Kwan said. "It's just you and the ice. No one can hold your hand."

So who says Kwan can't win a gold medal without a coach? More important, who says she shouldn't be allowed to try?

Yet, this week, lots of folks are wondering why.

It doesn't help that the possible reasons for the firing are more confusing than a Brian Boitano fast-food commercial.

Kwan won't say, exactly. She would rather catch flowers than sling mud.

Besides, verbally obliterating her former coach might make her look bad in front of her sponsors, and where does that leave that $5 million?

"Everyone is trying to get inside my brain," Kwan said. "They can't do it."

Some say it's about the money. Isn't everything about the money?

Maybe she's tired of paying Carroll for something she thinks that, by now, she can do herself. So big deal.

Shaquille O'Neal parted ways with longtime agent Leonard Armato this summer, and nobody plastered that split on the front page.

Others say it's about love. Isn't everything also about love?

She now has a boyfriend, a hockey player from the Florida Panthers. I've never heard of the dude, but perhaps she wants to spend more time cleaning his dentures. If so, good for her.

Nobody gripes when male athletes make all sorts of seemingly odd career decisions to spend more time with loved ones, from taking less money during free agency to demanding trades to be closer to home.

Still others say she wants more control of her destiny. This wouldn't be the first time.

Kwan, remember, was the junior skater who took her senior test in 1992 and advanced into that level without Carroll knowing it.

In fact, according to one of the popular skating books by insider Christine Brennan, the coach was out of town at the time and later furious about the decision.

Kwan is also, remember, the one who last January fired her choreographer, Lori Nichol, even though she was a Carroll protegee.

Now that she's an adult, she's clearly taking control of her life, and this is a bad thing?

Some say that, yes, it is a bad thing because since leaving Carroll, Kwan hasn't been the same skater.

She hasn't looked as precise. She hasn't been as vibrant.

Who knows, maybe that's another part of growing up. Maybe she wants to have more fun, no matter where she finishes.

Maybe she's finally realized a truth that many of us never do, that the journey is more important than the destination.

Maybe she dumped Carroll because she decided, no matter how she finishes her Olympic career, she wanted to finish it her way.

When a man named Frank Sinatra sang about that attitude, he was cool.

Yet when a woman named Michelle Kwan sings it, she's callous?

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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