MINNEAPOLIS, FEB. 13 -- She won't be 16 for two weeks, but Alice Sue Claeys already has had a pretty full life.

Claeys, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, is comfortable speaking French and Italian. She also is a national champion figure skater.

But Claeys, who lives in nearby Burnsville, isn't competing at this week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She's volunteering.

Pairs favorites Natasha Kuchiki and Todd Sand, runners-up in 1990, got a head start on the competition by claiming the original program tonight, worth one-third of the total score.

They had some assistance, however, as less than half of the 14 couples skated cleanly, with Karen Courtland and Jason Dungjen finishing in second.

The pairs conclude Friday night with the free skate. Also tonight, Kelly Ann Szmurlo won the first senior compulsory figures gold awarded in the U.S. Championships. Szmurlo, 22, of Franklin, Wis., competed in four senior nationals, quit last year and came back when figures became a separate event, held only in this competition.

"I always felt when I competed at nationals, that a lot of politics were played, that good freestylers would be held in certain spots because, even though they had to do figures, they had to be up there, which is fine," said Szmurlo, sixth in 1989. "But I figured maybe there wouldn't be so much politicking if figures were separate and {judges} wouldn't have to worry about good freestylers coming up from behind."

On Tuesday, Paul Dulebohn of Germantown, Md., and partner Andrea Catoia of Thornton, Pa., won first place in novice pairs.

Claeys, the 1990 junior champion, would have skipped the figures had she skated in these nationals, sticking to freestyle.

"It is a little disappointing since I'm here that I'm not skating," said Claeys, who is sitting out this even because she'll soon be competing for Belgium.

Because her grandfather is Belgian, she is eligible to represent that country. She dropped her membership in the U.S. Figure Skating Association and applied to compete for Belgium.

In the United States, Claeys would have a long climb up a crowded ladder. By representing Belgium, she had little competition -- at an international meet in St. Gervais, France, Claeys finished sixth, while the top Belgian skater, Isabelle Balhan, was "10 or 11 places behind."

"Some people think the reason I've done this is that I would not make it here," she said. "There's nothing I can do about that but to say that the opportunity to skate was the biggest influence."

Claeys won the seniors event at the Upper Great Lakes Regional in St. Louis, then missed the Midwest sectionals with a hip injury. However, the USFSA gave her a bye to these national championships.

But then Claeys was told the Belgian federation approved her to skate for Belgium, but she must sit out this event and the world championships next month. Her next action will be in the Flemish regionals in March. She must win the 1992 Belgian championships to be that nation's only women's representative at the '92 Winter Olympics in Albertville.

While she is representing Belgium and a club in Leuven, Claeys will live most of the year in Burnsville and continue her education. She doesn't consider herself a prodigy -- her sister received a masters degree in journalism from Northwestern at the age of 20 -- but Claeys could be finished with college when most students are beginning it.

"Education is very important because you can't always be a skater," she said. "You need something else you can do."