NAGANO, Japan -- First, she fell. Then, she stumbled. And finally, she wept.
For Nicole Bobek, her opening night at the Winter Olympics turned into a jumping, spinning, skating nightmare.
Skating second to last in the women's figure skating short program, trying to keep alive the hope of an American medal sweep, Bobek gave one of the worst performances of her career yesterday and plummeted to 17th place.
She failed to complete any of three required jumping elements. She fell on her combination jump, doubled her triple toe loop, and stepped out of a landing on the double axel.
As she left the ice, her lower lip quivered, and she reached down to pick up a stuffed animal. She cried as her scores popped up on the board, with a range of 4.2 to 4.7 on technical merit. Even her presentation scores, all over 5, couldn't save her.
She stomped out, found a quiet spot in a changing room and sobbed for several minutes.
"She is very upset and does not want to speak to anybody as you could well understand," said Bobek's coach, Christa Fassi.
Fassi admitted that Bobek was "very nervous, more nervous than she has ever been."
"She has not been able to train as well as she should have, but for the short program that should not matter," Fassi added.
The performance was yet one more setback in Bobek's up-and-down career. A wondrous performer who claimed the 1995 U.S. championship, Bobek's skating has been marred by inconsistency in recent seasons as she swapped coaches and styles.
She seemed to find the right mentor in Carlo Fassi, who trained Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill. But Fassi died suddenly during the 1997 world championships.
Bobek chose to remain with Fassi's widow, Christa, in a bid to stage a dramatic rise to the Winter Olympics. She performed superbly at last month's U.S. championships, leading to all the talk that she could join Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski for an unprecedented American medal sweep.
But Bobek arrived in Nagano five days before the competition, out of shape and suffering from bronchitis. She went through a dismal series of practices, culminating with yesterday.
"I know her as a friend and it's hard to see," Lipinski said. "I think she'll come out great in the long program."
But at today's practice session, Bobek fell a dozen times in warm-ups, at one point sobbing and shaking her head as she skated to the sideboards to confer with Fassi.
Will Bobek skate in tomorrow's long program?
"I'm still here," she said after practice, "and I'm still fighting."
Pub Date: 2/19/98