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 Tara Lipinski glides past Michelle Kwan to win gold.
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China's Chen Surprises Herself With Bronze
By Jennifer Frey and Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 21, 1998; Page B8

 Surya Bonaly wanted to make a statement with her illegal back flip.
(Joel Richardson/The Post)
NAGANO, Feb. 20 — Lu Chen did not come here expecting to win a medal. The Chinese figure skater barely made it here at all. She finished 25th in the 1997 world championships. She had to skate in Vienna, in a special qualifier, to earn an Olympic spot for China.

Once a world champion — in 1995 — Chen wanted simply to prove to the world that she could still skate with the best. She did that, and took home the bronze medal as well in tonight's women's long program.

Standing on the medal stand with Americans Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan, Chen could not stop the tears that came with her unexpected and hard-fought triumph. Riddled with foot and ankle injuries, embattled in a fight with her ex-coach and her own national figure skating association, Chen had spent the previous two years in tumult. Tonight was her reward.

"I wasn't looking for a medal," she said, through an interpreter. "I just wanted to prove to others I could still skate. Most important for myself is to skate well and tell everybody, 'I can do it, I'm back.' "

In fourth place after Wednesday night's short program, Chen executed a flowing, artistic long program this evening that allowed her to pass Russian Maria Butyrskaya — the reigning European champion — and move into a medal spot. She wept when she finished her skate, wept again on the medal stand, and was still emotional when she came to the post-event news conference. "I tried to skate with all my heart," she said.

After winning the world title in 1995, Chen's performances plummeted, and Chinese sports officials punished her for that — and for accusations that she had not turned over an appropriate amount of her earnings to the government — by ordering her to leave her Los Angeles training facility and return home. Miserable, her situation was worsened by her injuries, and when she finished 25th at the world championships in Lausanne, Switzerland, last year, she wondered if her career would ever recover.

"The most important thing is to have self-confidence," Chen said. "When I began my program, I said to myself that I could do it, and do it well."

Bobek Bobbles
U.S. skater Nicole Bobek fell twice and landed poorly on three other jumps in struggling through tonight's long program, much like she suffered through Wednesday's short program. Bobek finished in 17th place, far below her expectations when she won a spot on the U.S. team — labeled the Dream Team — at the national championships in January.

But unlike Wednesday night when Bobek, 20, left the arena in tears and declined to speak with reporters, Bobek emerged after her performance with a smile and a dose of perspective.

"It's tough," said Bobek, the 1995 U.S. champion. "After the short program, I really just wanted to give up and go home."

Since nationals, Bobek said, she took five days off because of a bout with bronchitis. Her poor practices leading up to the competition hinted that she wasn't in top shape. She fell on her first jump in Wednesday's short program and never recovered. "I had a really tough time here," Bobek said. "It seemed like it wasn't my week."

Bobek acknowledged that she gave up in the short program after making several mistakes. But, she said, she skated with determination for the full four minutes of the long program.

"I fell on almost everything," she said. "But I still went for it. I didn't give up. . . . Hopefully, after this Olympics, people will remember me for how hard I tried, not how good I did."

Not Giving a Flip
The most show-stopping move this week came from Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly. It was a back flip, and it was illegal. It also was intended to make a statement.

On Wednesday, Bonaly complained that her short program had been marked low, adding, "I am used to it." Realizing that in sixth place she was out of medal contention, she followed up the complaints by demonstrating her disregard for the rules tonight.

Toward the end of her program, Bonaly executed a back flip that featured a one-footed landing. The judges put her in 11th place for the long program. She wound up 10th overall.

"I knew I couldn't win, so I did what I can," Bonaly said. "I knew I couldn't do any better. I couldn't go forward because everybody skated good before [me] and I knew who was going to skate after. ... I just wanted to give nice things to the public, to the crowd who pay a lot."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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