Kwan won't pass up nationals Skater will compete despite foot injury

December 23, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

With her winning history and a nagging foot injury, Michelle Kwan could easily skip next month's U.S. Figure Skating championships and receive a free pass to the 1998 Winter Olympics.

But that's not her style.

Kwan announced yesterday that she plans to compete at the nationals in Philadelphia, despite a stress fracture of her left foot.

"This is the Olympic year, and I want to get the full taste of it," Kwan said. "I don't want to go straight to the Olympics. I want to earn it."

Even if she falters in Philadelphia, Kwan is all but certain to go to the Olympics, where she will be favored for the gold in women's singles.

Among the Americans, only the national champions are guaranteed Olympic spots. A 33-member selection committee can name the rest of the team, taking into account past performances at national and world competitions.

Kwan won the 1996 American and world titles and was the runner-up at those events this year behind 15-year-old Tara Lipinski.

And in their only head-to-head meeting this fall, Kwan, 17, beat Lipinski at Skate America.

"I can't speak for the international committee, but it would certainly be positive for the U.S. Figure Skating Association to send Michelle Kwan to the Olympics," said Heather Linhardt, spokeswoman for the organization.

"It's a pretty safe bet," she added.

The bigger uncertainty facing Kwan is her physical condition, and her confidence.

Kwan's injury was shrouded in mystery for months, and only came to light a few days after she stumbled while winning Skate Canada in early November.

"I didn't want to announce my foot hurt," she said. "It could have been a muscle spasm."

Kwan said she received a medical report in August that suggested she had a year-old stress fracture, which had healed. She continued to skate, feeling intense pain near the big toe of her left foot.

"I don't think it completely healed," she said.

After Skate Canada, her foot was placed in a cast, and she was off the ice for three weeks.

"I didn't expect to be in a cast at all, and off the ice for three weeks," she said. "I've never taken time off for more than two days. Three weeks was tremendous."

On a scale of one to 10, Kwan said the pain in her foot is "a three or a four."

The nationals will give her a chance to test her nerves and her jumps.

"I'm not feeling the best," she said. "I'm not feeling the pits. Confidence goes with how you skate. I'm feeling about average."

Pub Date: 12/23/97

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