In 1970, Janet Lynn won the U.S. Ladies Figure Skating Championship for the second time in five years. She did not know until recently four students had been killed at Kent State.

In 1973, she signed a contract with Ice Follies that made her then the highest paid woman athlete in the world. She did not know how to write a check. In 1975, she got married. She did not know how to start a washing machine.

While others her age were forming opinions, values and themselves, she was forming figure eights. "I did not know the war in Vietnam was going on," she said. "I'm serious. I had no idea of the issues. I have a neighbor who's a disabled Vietnam vet. He makes me aware of how unaware I was.

"In women's figure skating, in order to become a champion, you can't think," she said. "You have to chose not to think. You have to listen to what everyone else says. The last couple of years of competition, I should have been going through adolescence, learning to make decisions. But I wasn't able to. I chose not to."

She has spent the last six years becoming a mother, becoming an adult, disengaging herself from being Janet Lynn. For four years, she did not go near a skating rink. Last spring, at age 28, she began to skate again. She will compete tonight at 7 o'clock in the World Professional Figure Skating Championships at Capital Centre.

She is afraid she will do badly, afraid she will "get back into the same problems I had before." It would be so easy, she said, "to fall back into that battling with ego and being mindless and being pushed around again."

The attention is seductive. It makes it hard to remember that you "have a responsibility in being interested, too."

She does not intend to begin performing again regularly. She is doing this for practical reasons, including money, but also for personal ones. She wants to know if it is possible to be herself and a skater at the same time.

Once, that was impossible.

"It is not possible to catch two rabbits simultaneously," said Oleg Protopopov. He speaks in halting English and parables. He and his wife Ludmilla, twice Olympic gold medalists in pairs skating, defected to Switzerland in September 1979, leaving friends and some family behind in the Soviet Union.

Tonight they will perform a number called "A Man Who Is Laughing," which is "about a man and his life," Protopopov said. "This man fights against his life. Everybody in life is a little bit an artist. Everybody has a mask. When they go to the chief, they are smiling. I think the people who are most happy are those who can live wihout the mask, live with an open face. But life is very severe. This is about a man who wants to take it off and life kills him. But even in his last seconds before he dies, he is laughing."

"I take it off," he said, smiling broadly. "I am very happy."

Lynn says that could be a metaphor for her life. In her way, she is a defector. If the Protopopovs had to leave the Soviet Union to find freedom in skating, she had to leave skating to find freedom for herself, to take off her mask.

She was America's reigning sweetheart between Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill. She was stuck with an image and she didn't know "if it was me or not."

The first thing she did when she quit was get a perm and let her hair go its natural color. "Mousey brown," she said. "Up until two weeks ago, it was mousey brown. Everyone said, 'Oh you have to dye it and be blond like it used to be.' I wanted to rebel so bad. Everybody wanted me to be what I was before. I did it because it looks better, but I made the decision."

She did not make the decision to quit skating, her health did, and she is "100 percent grateful" to her asthma for that. The stage manager would catch her as she came off the ice, hyperventilating and close to passing out. One day in the fall of 1975, she said, "I was signing autographs real fast and I started an asthma attack right in front of all those people. That night I skated my first number, called my parents and said, 'I'm coming home.' "

She never went back to the show. That month she was married. It was a lot to handle all at once. She came close to having a nervous breakdown. "On a scale of one to 10, one not being depressed," she said. "I was a nine.

"I remember times feeling so frustrated that I didn't have the tools to think, didn't know how to figure things out, I felt violent," she said. "I never did anything violent. I was just so angry and frustrated and felt so dumb."

Like many child athletes -- she started skating at 2 1/2 -- she was old beyond her years, years behind her age. When she signed a three-year, $1.45-million contract with Ice Follies, she met with eight business men to discuss her portfolio. "They were asking what I'd like to do with the money, how I'd like to invest," she said. "I said, 'I don't even know how to write a check.' "

After she quit, forfeiting a third of the money, she and her husband got professional counseling for a year, an "invaluable" experience. In March 1977, her first son was born. She had twin boys two years later. She was happy but still some of the symptoms, psychological and physiological, persisted. "The doctors said it was all in my head," she said. "They said look at the stress you're under."

One day she went through the thousand letters she received when she retired; three suggested the same doctor. With his help, she traced her breathing problems to food allergies. She can not eat anything with wheat, yeast or food preservatives. Without the diet, she says, "I'd still be lying on the sofa."

When she began skating, she couldn't do the simplest things, the things that made her one of the best freestyle skaters ever. "She caressed the ice, almost like a bird skimming over water," said Dick Button, the former Olympic champion, and producer of tonight's program. He says she is as good as ever.

"It was humbling," she said, but not because she wasn't Janet Lynn anymore. She says she is "battling to the hilt not being what I was before . . . I had not been Janet Lynn for so long. I didn't know who she was. When I went back, I was a new person I was comfortable with. Maybe now the two can blend, Janet Lynn with Janet Salomon, the mother and wife."

She pauses, smiling at something a friend told her: "It's so nice to see a woman on the ice instead of a little girl."