Kwan flips to near perfection Lipinski falls on try at triple flip

Bobek second in short program

Figure Skating

January 09, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Michelle Kwan flipped.

Tara Lipinski flopped.

That's all you have to know about what happened here yesterday at the CoreStates Center in the ladies short program of this year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Kwan, the former world and American champion coming back from a foot injury that sidelined her for a month last fall, skated to near perfection after sleeping in rather than practicing.

Lipinski, the reigning world and U.S. champion coming off her victory at last month's Champions Series in Germany, botched her triple flip and all but eliminated her chance at a repeat.

A day after falling on the flip -- a jump she put into her program because the triple toe loop was too painful to do -- Kwan landed it cleanly and finished what might be a record-setting program.

Kwan, 17, received seven perfect scores of 6.0 for presentation, believed to be the most by any skater in a major competition since Brian Boitano's gold-medal winning performance in the 1988 Olympic Games.

It was also believed to be the most ever by a female skater in a major event.

Asked what she was thinking after finishing her routine, Kwan smiled.

"Wow! That was what I was thinking," said Kwan, who barring any significant problems in tomorrow's long program should win her second U.S. title in the last three years. "When I heard the 6.0s, I was thinking, 'Am I hearing that right?' "

Said Frank Carroll, Kwan's longtime coach: "It wasn't so much what she did, but the way she did it. She did it with such ease. There was a performing aura about her more than a technical aura."

It was a remarkable performance considering Kwan's problems late last year. As recently as Christmas, Kwan's stress fracture in one of her toes had left her stressed out. She briefly considered not coming here, given that she would have likely received one of the three Olympic spots.

"I wanted to earn my way on the team," Kwan said yesterday.

So does Lipinski. But regardless of what happens tomorrow, the 15-year-old phenom will be one of the three going to Nagano next month. The third spot will likely go to Nicole Bobek, a former U.S. champion who finished second behind Kwan in the short program. Tonia Kwiatkowski, who is currently fourth after skating first yesterday, will probably have to win here to secure a spot.

Richard Callaghan, Lipinski's coach, wouldn't buy into the theory that her fall in the short program was softened by the knowledge that her trip to the 1998 Olympics is all but guaranteed by a selection process that takes into account performances here and at major championships during the past two years, as well as the probability of earning a medal in Japan.

"I think it is drastic," said Callaghan. "I feel badly for her. This isn't about the Olympics."

Lipinski's fall came more than halfway through her two-minute, 40-second program. Performing to music from "Anastasia," Lipinski performed the first four of the eight required elements without incident.

But on the triple flip, Lipinski didn't get enough height on her jump and tumbled to the ice. She completed her routine without any more trouble, receiving scores between 5.2 and 5.4 for the required elements and mostly 5.7s and 5.8 for presentation.

"I felt confident going into the jump," Lipinski, teary-eyed and obviously drained, said later. "I didn't get the height I needed and I fell. I'm disappointed. I would have liked to have skated a clean program and done better. It was a fluke."

Asked if she saw Kwan's performance, Lipinski said tersely, "I didn't watch."

Lipinski missed what Kwan herself called "one of my best short programs ever." Skating to music from Rachmaninoff, Kwan's sometimes fragile confidence level was lifted by a triple Lutz-double toe loop and a double axel early in the program. By the time she got to the triple flip, her confidence was soaring and her toe was pain-free.

Kwan might consider going through the same pre-skate routine tomorrow, and in Nagano. After not sleeping well while worrying about her performance, Kwan sent word through her father to Carroll that she wanted to sleep in yesterday. With her coach's blessing, Kwan stayed back at the hotel. She didn't get to the arena until 15 minutes before she was scheduled to skate at a little after 2 p.m.

During her warm-up, Kwan didn't try the flip.

"Frank said, 'You look a little cautious,' " said Kwan, who fell twice and two-footed a landing during the long program at last year's nationals in Nashville that opened the door for Lipinski's first major senior championship. "He said, 'Go for it.' I wasn't really confident going into the flip. I said to myself, 'Remember the technique. Don't forget to jump.' "

The technique was perfect.

The jump was, too.

With it, Kwan sent a message to Lipinski and the rest of the world's top female skaters. And, perhaps more importantly, to herself.

"It feels great to be in first," she said. "I couldn't ask for more."

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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