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Fans Rally Behind Kwan

The skater makes her case today before a panel that will decide her fate regarding the Olympics.

January 27, 2006|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Sometime this morning, Grace Shih of San Diego will take a few minutes from her work as a design engineer to offer silent encouragement to Michelle Kwan.

Shih doesn't know when Kwan will take to the ice at the East West Ice Palace in Artesia and try to convince a panel of judges that she deserves a spot on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. But Shih hopes Kwan's heart and step will be lightened by the good wishes of her passionate fans.

"I'll keep her in my thoughts and hope for the best," said Shih, an administrator of the Michelle Kwan Forum, an Internet gathering place for Kwan supporters. "I just hope she thinks about the joy of skating, and I hope she's healthy and in shape.

"A few members have been praying either spiritually or religiously for her recovery. Most of us have just been hoping for the best and are believing that she will be at the Olympics."

Kwan's best effort today might not be a gold medal-caliber performance, because only two weeks have passed since she recovered from a pulled groin muscle and resumed jumping. The injury led the 25-year-old Torrance native to withdraw from the U.S. championships and petition for a medical bye onto the Olympic team, as Todd Eldredge and Nancy Kerrigan successfully did in 1992 and 1994, respectively.

The five judges, led by Bob Horen, chairman of U.S. Figure Skating's International committee, will evaluate her fitness and the competitive level of her programs. She will practice for the panel and then perform her short program; she will get a break before her long program. U.S. Figure Skating is scheduled to announce its decision at a 3:30 p.m. news conference near Los Angeles International Airport.

If the judges believe that she's not fit or that she can't improve her technique to a medal-contending level in the next three weeks, her request will be denied and the Olympic berth will go to Emily Hughes of Great Neck, N.Y., who finished third behind Sasha Cohen of Corona del Mar and Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air, Md., at the national championships.

A judge who asked that he not be named said the panel should score her routines according to the new judging system and added that if she doesn't get at least 63 for her short program or 125 in the long program, "she may not have the combined total to win the gold medal."

Kwan earned 61 points for her short program and 113.98 for her long program at the world championships. Cohen has bests of 65.15 for her short program and 134.05 for her long program, and Russia's Irina Slutskaya, the defending world champion, has best scores of 70.22 and 130.48.

While Kwan skates, her fans will anxiously await the panel's decision.

"We're all going to be in front of our computers, refreshing the screens," Shih said. "We believe in her, in her success, her competitive fire and what speaks to us the most, her skating. She is fire on ice."

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