Kwan's career is growing by leaps and bounds WINTER OLYMPICS

February 07, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

On a scorching day last July in San Antonio, a crowd of 25,691 -- the largest ever to watch a figure skating event -- packed the Alamodome.

Out came a 4-foot-11, 77-pound girl who had turned 13 just 2 1/2 weeks before. Michelle Kwan was oblivious to the surroundings. She flawlessly performed six triple jumps, including two triple lutzes and two triple toe loops -- one to open a jump combination -- a triple flip and a triple salchow.

The crowd buzzed, and later gave Kwan a standing ovation.

America's latest figure skating hero had arrived.

"I think I got a lot of notice that day," said Kwan. "I was a little nervous, but the crowd gave me confidence. I went out there thinking, 'Oh my God,' when I heard all the people cheering for me."

Kwan's coach, Frank Carroll, said: "It was like America finally took notice. Michelle had performed well before, but that was the ultimate and it left everyone talking about how she might make the 1994 Olympic team. It was kind of amazing."

Kwan did make the Olympic team, finishing second to Tonya Harding at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January. U.S. skating officials, however, bumped her to alternate status in favor of former national champion Nancy Kerrigan, who was attacked before the competition in Detroit and was unable to compete.

Kwan will go to Lillehammer, Norway, for the Winter Games, and it appears she might skate in place of Harding, who could be taken off the team because of her alleged involvement in the plot to injure Kerrigan.

That day in July wasn't the first time Kwan had stunned Carroll. In the fall of 1992, without Carroll's permission, Kwan took and passed a test that elevated her from the junior to senior level at national competitions.

"Well, my father told me that he [Carroll] was supposed to make the decision, and he said no," said Kwan. "I never told my father what he said, so we took the test. I just wanted to perform against better competition. He [Carroll] was kind of mad."

Try irate.

"I was furious," said Carroll. "I told her if she wanted another coach, go find one. But if I'm running the ship, then let me run the ship."

Carroll looks back and laughs at the episode now because the future looks so bright for Kwan. She finished a remarkable sixth in last year's senior national championships in Phoenix, and while winning the world juniors last month in Colorado Springs, Colo., she defeated Tanjya Szewczenko, the 16-year-old who later beat Katarina Witt, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, at the German championships.

Now try this comparison: At age 13, 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi could do only the easiest of the triple jumps Kwan tosses off effortlessly.

"Considering her age, it is incredible what she has accomplished," Yamaguchi said after watching Kwan at the Olympic Festival last summer.

Kwan, a Chinese-American, started skating at 5 because she enjoyed watching her brother play hockey. "Fell down all the time," said Kwan.

Two years later, she won her first tournament.

It always has been her dream to participate in the Olympics. She lives and trains full time in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., with tutors monitoring the eighth-grade student. Her sister, Karen, 15, also lives and trains with Michelle.

The girls' father, Daniel, a systems analyst for Pacific Bell, spends nights with his daughters and then drives 200 miles round trip to work in suburban Los Angeles.

Kwan's mother, Estella, runs the family restaurant in their hometown of Torrance and visits the rest of the family on weekends.

Daniel Kwan is so sincere about his daughter's dream, he contributes thousands of dollars to Michelle's $60,000-a-year training fee.

Now, it's close to paying off.

"My dad lives my dream, too," said Michelle Kwan.

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