NAGANO, Japan -- Michelle Kwan kept crying softly. She cried when she finished her performance. She cried when she failed to win the gold. And she cried again in a news conference, wiping away the tears while trying to smile.
Defeat hurt her. She gave a show that was nearly golden, skating with style and grace and all seven triple jumps properly placed. Yet she had to settle for the silver behind American teammate Tara Lipinski in the women's figure skating final at the Winter Olympics yesterday.
"It might not be the color medal I wanted," Kwan said, "but I'll take it."
Kwan, 17, has been under so much pressure. At the U.S. nationals last month, she won with a performance that was as fine as anyone had ever seen.
Everyone called her the favorite for the gold, but she seemed to know different. "I knew the competition wasn't a piece of cake," she said. "There were so many great skaters out there."
And at the Olympics, her every move, her every practice, was evaluated by judges. She never stumbled, yet she never performed with her familiar ease and style.
She was nervous and tentative, yet she performed magnificently under so much pressure.
As she took the ice for her "Lyra Angelica" program, the crowd was hushed as if witnessing a ballet.
"I thought everything was going really well," Kwan said. "I had a few problems in my jumps. By the time I finished, I thought, 'Oh, my God,' this can't be happening. I didn't think I was perfect. I was skating my best. I had to pinch myself. Wow, this is great."
Her marks were, too, all 5.9's for presentation, although the technical scores were lower, leaving room for Lipinski to win.
"I think she was a little too cautious," said Kwan's coach, Frank Carroll. "I'm philosophical about this. There was a feeling that she didn't want to miss anything, rather than going out fighting. She didn't have the freedom that she had at the U.S. nationals. But I don't want to criticize. I don't want to sound like an old crank."
Still, Kwan had survived an Olympic test.
"I came out of the rink happy," Kwan said. "I skated my best. There was nothing more I could have done. I truly knew that."
All she could do was wait.
"I rushed over to see my mom," Kwan said. "I was waiting. 'Am I going to win or am I going to be second?' I knew when I heard the second marks [of Lipinski] I didn't win. There was a bit of disappointment. And some tears."
Kwan said, "In the back of my mind, I knew I skated well. I came here to do a job, to skate well. I did that. C'est la vie. Even though you work hard, you don't always get the gold medal."
She got a silver, and it wasn't so bad. She was gracious. She hugged and kissed Lipinski at the awards ceremony. Asked later to say something about her rival, Kwan turned to Lipinski, laughed and said: "Tara, I like you."
And she meant it.
Kwan will try to recover from this. She wants to attend Harvard University in the fall. And yet, even as she talked, she kept coming back to the silver, and to the disappointment.
"All of the time I spent on the ice was worth it, even though I got the silver," she said.
And she'll have the memory of the night.
"When I got off the ice, I wasn't thinking like I left the door open," she said. "I thought, this is a wonderful moment for me."
Will she try to return to the Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake City?
"I'll be back in 2002," she said. "I'll be 21. I'll be fighting hard. I've got one more shot."
And she finished, "Right now, I am thinking what can I do better. What can I do better for the next Olympics? We can go back home. There is a lot of improvement to be done."
Pub Date: 2/21/98