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    Tuesday, February 3, 1998

    U.S. speedskater stranded by Oprah

     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- American speed skater Chris Witty should have been circling the ice in her most important practice of the Olympics. Instead, she was dodging downtown traffic, trying to flag down a cab.
     She was left in the lurch, team officials said, by a producer for the Oprah Winfrey Show.
     Witty, America's top woman speed skater and a gold-medal hopeful in the 1,000 metres, taped a segment for Winfrey's talk show Tuesday on the roof of a building in Nagano.
     Liz King, a producer for the show, had promised a car would be on hand to rush Witty from the taping to the M-Wave arena 6 1/2 kilometres away, where the skater was to run through practise on a precise race-day schedule, according to representatives for the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Speed Skating.
     "It was her key practice session, and we had made it very clear that she had to be there by 10:45 (a.m.)," said Wendy Day, a speed skating federation spokeswoman.
     But when Witty and Day walked out of the building to catch their promised ride, no car was waiting, the spokeswoman said.
     "I called the show and talked with Liz King," Day said. "I was told, 'Why can't you get a cab like everyone else?' Then she said, 'I can't help you. I'm in Amarillo, Tex."'
     Winfrey is in Amarillo, where ranchers are suing her, her production company and a food safety activist for $10.3 million over remarks made on her show about beef.
     Deborah Johns, a spokeswoman for the show, said she hasn't been able to learn King's side of the story.
     "But it's a very uplifting and inspiring show. Seven trips to Japan were given away, making peoples dreams a reality," Johns said. "So it's just unfortunate that one logistical detail has become an issue."
     Japanese cabs are not easily tracked down on the street. Usually, riders book cabs by phone and wait at the curb for the car to come. With time running late, Day and Witty waded into traffic and tried to get a taxi to stop.
     "I finally had to stand in front of one, shouting 'USA athlete! Speed Skater!"' Day said. The driver agreed to take them to the M-Wave through heavy traffic, and Witty arrived at 11:10 a.m. Although coaches were fuming, Day said the skater seemed unperturbed.
     The taping was part of a long-distance get-together between Witty and her parents, who are still at home in West Allis, Wis. They are traveling to Japan to see their daughter's Olympic races as part of a program sponsored by KFC.