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    Monday, February 16, 1998

    Liepa ready to become civilian again

    By DAN RALPH -- The Canadian Press
     NAGANO, Japan (CP) -- A 24th-place finish never looked so good to Ottawa speedskater Ingrid Liepa.
     Liepa concluded her Olympic career Monday with a 24th-place finish in the women's 1,500-metre speedskating event. The 31-year-old plans to finish the World Cup season before resuming her pursuit of a legal career. In April, Liepa will begin to article to become a lawyer.
     Still, the Olympics were nothing but a distant dream in 1990 when Liepa took up speedskating for stress management during her first year of law school at the University of Calgary. Eight years and two Winter Games later, Liepa is ready for a more normal life.
     "I can't be anything but happy with just coming into the sport at 24 and never even thinking of one Olympics let alone two," she said. "The results here are not satisfying maybe on paper... But if I look at the performance -- what I did on the day given the circumstances -- I'm really, really pleased.
     "Competing never crossed my mind when I started. It was pure hobby."
     That is, until friends noticed she could skate.
     "It didn't hit me that I should compete as much as other people hit me and said, 'You should try competing,"' she said. "I just had a lot of luck, good timing and a love for the sport."
     The five-foot-nine, 150-pound Liepa was added to the national team in 1992 and competed in her first Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway, two years later. There, she finished 14th in the 3,000 metres and 28th in both the 1,000 and 5,000-metre competitions.
     Liepa also took part in the 3,000-metre competition Wednesday, finishing 25th.
     Liepa said she has learned much more than just how to skate faster during her six years on Canada's national team.
     "I think the unique perspective that I bring is I sort of stepped out of conventional life so to speak and stepped into sport," she said. "I think in a way I straddled the fence between the civilians and the high-performance athletes and can appreciate both sides and what there is to learn from each."
     Liepa says she has no regrets about ending her athletic career. After all, the last six years have been a bonus.
     But going from being a recreational skater to a world-class athlete has taught Liepa that no goal is unattainable. After all, she is living proof.
     "It's never too late," she says.