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Kwan Collects Skating Title; Lipinski Recovers
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 11, 1998; Page D1

 Michelle Kwan and coach Frank Carroll react to announcement of her scores. (AP Photo)
PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 10 — The crowd was dropping hints, chanting "Six! Six!" but the judges didn't need any nudging tonight. At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at CoreStates Center, Michelle Kwan had just finished her long program, taking the ice thinking of clouds and angels. Somehow her program seemed a combination of both, and perhaps a few other heavenly things.

As she clutched a pair of stuffed animals thrown from the crowd and sat under the arm of her coach, Frank Carroll, her scores flashed across the scoreboard and the sellout crowd of 19,082 erupted again. Kwan received eight perfect 6.0s for presentation — breaking the record for women she set Thursday in the short program with seven. With that, Kwan regained the U.S. title she lost last year and claimed her first Olympic berth.

The rest of the night went almost as sweetly as Kwan's program. Tara Lipinski recovered from her fall in the short program, rebounding from fourth place into second overall. And Nicole Bobek held on to her third place, skating a flawless — if safe — program that brought the crowd to its feet. A fall by Tonia Kwiatkowski essentially pushed her out of Olympic team contention with a fifth-place finish.

Later tonight, the U.S. Figure Skating Association's international committee was expected to make official what everyone already suspected: Kwan, Lipinski and Bobek would go to the Olympics.

The three women have won the last four U.S. titles, and Kwan and Lipinski have won the last two world championships. That immediately raised the question of a medal sweep next month in Nagano, Japan.

"I think we can absolutely do one-two-three," Bobek, 20, said. "No problem. I think this is absolutely one of the strongest teams."

The biggest question entering tonight's event was not whether Lipinski would make the Olympic team, but whether Kwiatkowski and Bobek would make it. With only the national champion sent automatically, the final two U.S. spots would be selected by the international committee.

Bobek was elated by her performance. "I feel like my whole life has been an emotional roller-coaster," she said. "I worked the hardest I've ever worked to get to this point. I put so much more emotion than I've ever put into my skating."

To regain the national title, Lipinski would have had to have finished in first place, and Kwan would have had to drop to third or lower. Lipinski didn't have such big goals — she was simply satisfied to have made amends for her fall the other night.

"It felt great, especially after having a so-so short program," Lipinski, 15, said. "To come back even stronger is very exciting. I new it was a fluke, a silly mistake."

In the short program Thursday, Lipinski fell attempting a triple flip. Neither Kwan, Bobek or Kwiatkowski had any major mistakes in their program, so Lipinski's error put her in fourth place. The short program accounts for one-third of the overall score. The rest comes from the long program, which emphasises artistry more than technical elements.

Kwan, known for her artistry, dazzled the crowd and the judges with seven triple jumps, including a couple of triple toe loops. That was the jump she cut out of her short program because it bothers the healing stress fracture in her left toe.

"When I was out there I just listened to the crowd. I just thought of angels and clouds," said Kwan, 17.

Bobek skated a flawless but cautious program. She executed one combination, a double Axel-double toe loop.

The crowd didn't have any say in the official vote, but they made their thoughts known with a roaring standing ovation for Bobek, who rubbed her eyes in disbelief. The fans furiously booed her marks, which consisted of 5.6s through 5.8s with one 5.9 for presentation.

Lipinski, who skated immediately after Bobek, did not get that magnitude of applause. She drew all 5.8s and 5.9s except for a pair of 5.7s for presentation.

Kwan received all 5.9s and one 5.8 for technical merit. She received just one 5.9 for presentation.

Where Bobek played it safe, Lipinski came out with fists flying. Though she looked tentative on several jumps, including the triple flip that she fell on in the short program, she also hit three combinations, including the difficult triple toe loop-triple toe loop.

For Kwiatkowski, 26, she will have to retire without an Olympic appearance. She finished fourth overall after tonight's flawed effort. She has had the same coach — former Olympian Carol Heiss Jenkins — for 18 years, longer than either Kwan or Lipinski have been alive. Kwiatkowski graduated in 1994 from Baldwin-Wallace College in Cleveland with degrees in both communications and psychology.

Her best finish in nationals was in 1996, when she was runner-up to Kwan.

Head-to-head, Kwiatkowski's record over the last two seasons has been far better than that of Bobek, who has had injury problems and has struggled this year. Had she and Bobek skated equally well, it would have been hard to justify leaving her off the Olympic team.

Bobek won her only national title in 1995, finishing ahead of Kwan and Kwiatkowski. Since then, she has experienced a number of injuries. In the '96 championships, she withdrew because of injury troubles that continued to bother her last year. Bothered by nagging back and leg injuries, Bobek finished third in the '97 championships.

In the last two years, the U.S. champion has had similar success on the world stage. After winning the '96 championships, Kwan went on to win the world championships that year. Lipinski did the same after winning the U.S. title last year.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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