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  • Wednesday, February 10, 1999

    Kwan not crying over 'What ifs?'

     SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Sure, Michelle Kwan was a little teary-eyed when Tara Lipinski won the gold medal at the Nagano Olympics. And yes, it was a little tough to her the national anthem and know it wasn't playing for her.
     But for anyone who expected her to be depressed for the next four years, get over it. She got a silver medal and additional inner strength out of her Olympic experience, and she's not about to apologize for either.
     "It only took me a few moments to get myself together fter the Olympics, because I had other things to look forward to," she said Tuesday. "A lot of things happened for the good and for the better. I don't think if I could go back in time, I don't think I'd change anything.
     "It helped me grow as a person and as an athlete. So I think it was meant to be."
     Kwan has been stronger and more formidable than ever -- if that's possible -- since leaving Nagano. She won her second world title and the world professional title, and has a nine-event winning streak going.
     She comes to this week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships as the overwhelming favorite to win her third crown.
     "I believe that I would still be in the same position if I did win the gold," she said. "I love competing, I love what I'm doing. They always say don't change what you love doing, and I love what I'm doing."
     And believe it or not, she'd love it even more if Lipinski had stuck around for another few years. Lipinski gave up her Olympic eligibility six weeks after winning gold, leaving Kwan in a class by herself.
     Even though Lipinski captured some titles Kwan wishes she had, it's just not going to be as fun without her effervescent foe. Without Lipinski, there may be other skaters, but there's no competition.
     "I think it's great when the best skaters are out there. That is pure competition, that's what I love," Kwan said. "So I do miss her.
     "We were always like this," she said, holding up two fingers close together. "It was great for us. Every time I would go on the ice, I would always go out there and say, 'I need to work harder and harder because she is always there."'
     For now, Kwan and coach Frank Carroll are going to have to find their own motivations. This week, it's the U.S. championship.
     While almost everyone -- other skaters, other coaches, the media -- seems to think Kwan is a lock for the title, that's not how she and Carroll see it. She's added a triple-triple jump combination to make her program more difficult.
     With a short program to "Carmen" and free skate to "Ariane," she's determined to expand the emotion and expressiveness for which she's already known.
     "Michelle and I don't think of the nationals as an easy competition," Carroll said. "We respect this title very well and we plan to go after it with a vengeance. We're not here for casual play. We mean to skate well.
     "I'd really like her to do a bang-up job here to show how much she's improved," he added. "I think she's really going to do it up right."
     And she plans to keep doing it. She's sticking around for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and she joked Tuesday that she might have to hang around for 2006, too.
     While other skaters have traded their Olympic and national medals for the less stressful life of touring, three months of shows in the summer is plenty for Kwan. She wants to skate and she wants to compete, and the tours and pro-ams aren't enough to satisfy her competitive fire.
     "For me, it's the pleasure of skating," she said. "That's what it all comes down to. Skating. That's it.
     "When I stop loving to skate, that's when it's time to walk away."
     The championships began Tuesday night with the compulsory dance. With five-time champions Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow now professionals, their former training partners, Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, took first place after the compulsories, worth 20 percent of the total score.
     Just behind were Eve Chalom and Mathew Gates.

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