Bonaly, Chen trade thin ice for top 6 Injury, squabble fail to stop skaters from France, China

February 19, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

NAGANO, Japan -- They shouldn't be here. Not now. Not with a women's figure skating title to be decided at the Winter Olympics.

One is injured. The other is trying to put a dispute with her skating federation behind her.

Yet here they are, France's Surya Bonaly and China's Lu Chen, in the top six at the Winter Games.

Bonaly grabbed sixth place in yesterday's short program. She grabbed it with all the power and gusto she could muster, launching herself for triple jumps on a battered right leg. Two years ago, she tore her right Achilles' tendon, a frightening injury that could have sidelined her for good. And on Saturday, she pulled her right thigh muscle, and nearly pulled out of the competition.

The judges who have denied Bonaly titles for so long denied her again, giving her low scores. But the five-time European champion is accustomed to having to prove her artistic credentials.

"After 10 years, I'm used to it," said Bonaly, 24. "I'm too tired to cry, cry, cry."

Bonaly's mother, Suzanne, a tense and often controversial figure in skating, shrugged off the scores.

"What's that all about, Zen?" Suzanne Bonaly said as the scores went up on the board. "Look at that 4.9. What else can you do?"

All Suzanne Bonaly wanted to talk about was her daughter's comeback.

"It is a miracle," she said. "It is beautiful. Can you imagine anyone else coming back from an injury like this? But Surya never stopped skating. She even skated in a cast."

China's Chen, a surprising fourth in the short program, has been skating these past few years under a different handicap. She was in open revolt against her country's skating federation.

Bronze medalist at the 1994 Lillehammer Games and a three-time Olympian, Chen, 21, parted with her coach six months after the '96 worlds because of a dispute with Chinese skating officials over how much of her skating earnings she should be allowed to keep.

Then she defied an edict to leave California and return to China to train.

But last fall, after suffering a stress fracture in her right foot, she relented, and went back home in a desperate bid to qualify for the Olympics.

The 1995 world champion has regained her elegant form and her joy for the sport.

"It was a great, great program," she said. "I'm happy to come here, come to the Olympics. Last year was not very good."

Asked about her problems with the federation, Chen said: "Right now, I don't think back. I just want to enjoy and skate and have fun."

She said she skates for herself, her family and her friends.

"I think this is my last competition," she said. "It's my last short program."

Pub Date: 2/19/98

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