Nationals are not without final-night drama Bobek to miss worlds after injury waiver denied

Figure Skating

January 22, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The U.S. figure skating championships at the San Jose Arena were remarkably devoid of controversy until the grand finale Saturday night. But the women delivered.

Again.

If it weren't a foregone conclusion entering the competition that Michelle Kwan, 15, was going to become the youngest women's individual champion since Peggy Fleming in 1964 and third-youngest ever, it became one after defending champion Nicole Bobek withdrew before the freestyle program because of a lingering ankle injury.

Bobek, 18, of Chicago, had ended the short program Friday night in third place and in tears, and although she tried to skate in the warm-up before her free skate 24 hours later, it was apparent to anyone among the crowd of 14,104 who paid attention to her labored movements that she would be unable to proceed.

The show went on, with Kwan presenting a commanding performance that earned her scores of no lower than 5.8 on a 6.0 scale for either technical merit or presentation. She won over all nine judges. Tonia Kwiatkowski, 24, of Lakewood, Ohio, finished second and Tara Lipinski, 13, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., third. Behind fourth-place Sydne Vogel, 16, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was Kwan's 17-year-old sister, Karen.

The fireworks came when the U.S. Figure Skating Association's international committee decided not to grant Bobek an injury waiver to become one of the three women to represent the United States in the world championships in March in Edmonton, Alberta. That vote was not consistent with decisions in recent years in favor of injured skaters at the nationals, such as Christopher Bowman, Todd Eldredge and Nancy Kerrigan.

Bobek had earned a third berth in this year's worlds for the United States by finishing third in last year's worlds, so she believed that a place on this year's team was rightfully hers.

A team's berths is a product of its finishes in the previous year's competition.

"I'd have to be nuts if I didn't want to go," she said.

But when her new coach, Barbara Roles Williams of Las Vegas, had inquired before the championships about the possibility of an injury waiver if Bobek couldn't compete here, she had been warned by U.S. Figure Skating Association president Morry Stillwell that it might not be granted. The USFSA, he said, was not pleased that Bobek had performed on the 16-city Nutcracker on Ice tour in December for $90,000 instead of resting her ankle.

Adding to the intrigue was Richard Callaghan, Bobek's former coach who is now working with Lipinski, the third-place finisher who would be bumped from the world team if the injury waiver were granted.

He made it clear while the international committee was meeting behind closed doors that he would not be pleased if the decision favored Bobek.

"Tara has definitely earned the right," he said. "The way she skated tonight, she'd be exceptional at worlds."

One hour and 20 minutes after the 25 members of the international committee convened, a majority agreed.

"Tara Lipinski earned the berth," Stillwell said. "That's what caused the committee to vote the way it voted."

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