From The New Yorker
January 12, 1998
A year ago, when Michelle Kwan launched
herself into a triple-toe/triple-toe combination jump at the 1997
United States Figure Skating Championships, in Nashville, she was
the favorite to win the next Olympic gold medal in ladies' figure
skating. The gold is a prize estimated to be worth five to ten million
dollars in product endorsements, and the skating world, embarrassed
by the scandals of the 1993-94 season, was looking for a champion
who would conduct herself with dignity. Kwan, then sixteen and the
defending national and world champion, seemed like a gift from heaven.
Not only was she exceptionally talented, combining athleticism and
artistry like no other skater in history, but she was also an intelligent,
attractive, and well-behaved girl from a strong Asian-American family,
apparently free of the brattiness of Nancy Kerrigan or the Anna
Karenina-meets-the-train theatrics of Oksana Baiul. "Michelle is
a beautiful skater," skating people would say of Kwan, with the
same emphasis on the word "beautiful" that fashion people use to
describe a certain model who radiates an ethereal loveliness that
is greater than the sum of her parts. With her smooth features,
bright eyes, and charmingly girlish smile, Kwan continues a tradition
of lovely, levelheaded American girls, going back through Peggy
Fleming, the 1968 ladies' champion, to the Radcliffe graduate Tenley
Albright, who won the gold medal in 1956.
In Nashville, Kwan performed the first triple-jump
combination perfectly, but slipped skating out of the second one,
and, in a weird and utterly graceless loss of balance, she ended
up in a "Christina's World"-like sprawl on the ice. "That was absolutely
unnecessary and uncalled for!" the TV commentator and two-time Olympic
champion Dick Button declared, his voice carrying a slightly schoolmarmish
note of disapproval. Kwan got up, with ice shavings clinging to
her skating dress, only to fall again, later in the program, which
allowed Tara Lipinski to take the title away from her and to become,
at fourteen, the youngest national champion ever. Afterward, the
camera found Michelle gripping her face in shock. A month later,
she stumbled in her short program at the World Championships, and
Tara claimed that title, too, becoming the youngest world champion
ever. Michelle was now the youngest ex-world champion ever.
Why did Michelle fall? Kwan's entourage was reluctant
to answer that question. "I can't talk about that," her choreographer,
Lori Nichol, told me. "My understanding is that it was a simple
technical thing, but you'll have to talk to Frank." Frank Carroll,
Kwan's coach, said, "I think Michelle began to feel she had something
to lose, and, as much as I wanted to change that notion, it was
very difficult, getting into her head. At sixteen, they have their
own things going on in their minds." Michelle's older sister Karen,
who is also a top competitive skater and is now a sophomore at Boston
University, told me, "Last year, Michelle would sometimes break
down and cry for no reason. Like, she'd miss one jump and then she'd
cry. I think it was just overwhelming to her, what she had to go
out and do."
The simplest explanation was that Michelle fell
because she had grown up. Since 1993, when she arrived on the international
stage at thirteen, a jumping phenom, she had gained thirty pounds
and grown five inches. She now had breasts and hips, which is just
about the worst thing that can happen to a skater, torquewise. "Once
your body starts to develop, it's difficult to keep your jumps,
because you start getting hips and become shapely," Dorothy Hamill,
who won the gold in 1976, told me recently. "You can't remain compact."
At the same time, all the doubt and uncertainty that are felt by
any adolescent girl were visited on Michelle, and they showed in
her skating. Fleming told me, "If you're feeling something, it will
come out on the ice."
Many athletes fetishize confidence and mental
toughness, but this is especially true in skating, where there is
a semimystical element to "getting" and "losing" one's triple jumps--the
axel, the lutz, the flip, the loop, the salchow, and the toe loop,
in descending order of difficulty. Oksana Baiul, who had just turned
sixteen when she won the gold medal, told me, "As you get older,
you start gaining weight, and you have a lot of things inside of
you--especially inside of your head. You start thinking differently,
seeing things differently. When you're young, you're just thinking
The figure-skating world doesn't know quite what
to think about the ever-younger girls who now dominate the sport.
Skating is an inbred, hybrid culture that includes elements from
the worlds of dance, sports, and theatre, and combines a new media
focus on individuals and personalities with the old media world
of ice spectaculars. No one wants the freakish gymnastics element
to creep into the sport. Yet the TV audiences love to see triple
jumps, and girlish bodies are better than womanly ones at doing
triples. So at the same time that the sport has become more athletic
it has become more theatrical: judges insist that the athletes have
the "presentation" of mature women, and the girls comply by wearing
lots of makeup and playing adult roles. But role-playing alone can't
convey the grownup self-awareness that informs the best skating.
For a teen-age girl, finding the balance between childhood fearlessness
and adult vulnerability can be tougher than landing a triple axel.
Kwan began the current season skating well,
but she reinjured a stress fracture in one toe in November and cancelled
the rest of her competitions. Her only head-to-head competition
with Lipinski prior to the 1998 National Championships, taking place
this week in Philadelphia, was at Skate America, which was held
in October, in Detroit. On that occasion, I spent a wintry weekend
shuttling between the Westin Hotel Renaissance Center, where the
skaters were staying, and the Joe Louis Arena, where the competition
On Friday, the Renaissance Center was filled
with coaches, judges, agents, athletes, and United States Figure
Skating Association officials. Surrounding the lobby was a labyrinth
of hallways designed to take pedestrians past as many shops as possible,
and the skating people were meandering through in an attempt to
find the exit where the shuttle buses were to leave for the Joe
Louis Arena. "Keep going past the Burger King, and when you see
Winkelman's go right," one Skate America volunteer advised.
The skaters paraded through the lobby in DKNY
warmup tops and skin-tight leggings that delineated the amazing
"glutes"--gluteus muscles--in their backsides. The tremendous strength
in their adductors--the muscles on the inside of your thighs that
ache after your annual trip to the rink--made them walk both bowlegged
and stiff-kneed, as though they already had their skates on. Michelle
was escorted by her mother, Estella, who was trundling a metal case
that held Michelle's skates, and by her agent, Shep Goldberg, who
also represents the gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Tara was accompanied
by her agent, Mike Burg. Earlier, Tara had been seen tearing around
the Renaissance Center with her friends (whom you can read about
on Tara's Web site, www.taralipinski.com). She lives in nearby Bloomfield
Hills and trains at the Detroit Skating Club, with Richard Callaghan,
a well-known coach. Legions of eight-year-old girls were pursuing
both skaters everywhere. Too young to have learned "Thrilled to
meet you!" or other adult forms of flattery, the little girls just
studied Tara and Michelle with hard dolls' eyes while waiting for
their heroines to sign their autograph books. Michelle dotted the
"i" in her name with a little heart.
Michelle and Tara seem prepared for ice-princesshood
in ways that Nancy Kerrigan and Oksana Baiul did not. Both are named
after mass-culture commodities--Michelle for the Beatles song, Tara
for the plantation in "Gone with the Wind"--and both learned to
skate in malls before they were seven. Both sets of parents got
their daughters into élite training centers when they were
very young, and made great sacrifices to raise the sixty thousand
dollars that a top skater can chew up in annual expenses. The Lipinskis
mortgaged their home; the Kwans sold theirs. And both families had
the girls home-schooled with private tutors. Tara trained at the
University of Delaware's Ice Skating Science Development Center.
Michelle spent her formative years living with her mother in what
is known as "the Debi Thomas tepee"--a cabin next to the Ice Castle
International Training Center in Lake Arrowhead, situated high in
the San Bernardino Mountains. (She and her parents now live in a
bigger house nearby.)
Although Michelle is originally from Torrance,
California, and Tara was born in Philadelphia, both actually grew
up in Skatingland, a never-never land halfway between Mt. Olympus
and Las Vegas, and not far from Disney. Skatingland is a world of
faux Bavarian chalets and snow-frosted peaks that have perfectly
frozen skating ponds nestled among them. Kris Kringle is in residence
there, and Belgian waffles are served three times a day. It occupies
the same space in the cultural mind as "The Sound of Music," Sonja
Henie, and Sun Valley. It's the place that the mail-order catalogues
like Coldwater Creek and Bridgehead come from. It smells strongly
of scented candles and has an odd baroque sentimentality about it--the
sentimentality of the movie "Ice Castles," in which a young girl
from the Iowa hinterland (the actress Lynn-Holly Johnson) overcomes
her lack of formal training and her gruff but sweet-hearted Dad
(the young Tom Skerritt) to triumph over the snooty rich skaters
at the championships, but then is blinded in a freak skating accident
and becomes a basket case who never leaves the house until, with
the loving support of her boyfriend (Robby Benson), she returns
to the ice and, still blind, skates triumphantly at the Midwest
Regionals to the schmalzy Marvin Hamlisch tune "Looking Through
the Eyes of Love," sung by Melissa Manchester.
But, while seventy years of kitsch and nostalgia
cling to figure skating, modern skaters also live in the Jerry Maguire
world of big-time sports marketing. Both Tara and Michelle have
the weird savvy that develops when you get an agent at thirteen,
write your autobiography a couple of years later (each girl has
recently published her memoirs), earn hundreds of thousands of dollars
a year in the sixty-odd-city Campbell's Soups Champions on Ice Tour
(despite the girls' so-called amateur status), and play Truth or
Dare on the tour bus with the more sexually experienced skaters.
They're like sixteen-year-olds going on thirty-eight. At the same
time, both girls are under enormous pressure not to grow up, since
growing up makes it harder to do the triple jumps, and, as a result,
they have preserved oddly undeveloped, childlike parts of themselves.
Both collect Beanie Babies, and Michelle still has her childhood
stuffed animals. In interviews this year, Michelle has been saying,
"I want to get the joy back into my skating," as though at seventeen
she were already too old, things were already too messy, and she
needed to return to a more carefree period of her life. Part of
the job of a skating champion these days is to enact in symbolic
form a larger cultural transaction: we make available to certain
children the wealth and authority formerly enjoyed only by adults,
and in return we ask that they not become actual adults. Their end
of the bargain is to preserve our fantasy of gifted childhood forever.
When I caught up with Tara, she was flopped
on a couch under the Westin Hotel escalators, her long blond hair
spread out over its cushion, her jewelled fingers--two rings on
the right hand, three on the left--resting on the back of its seat.
Tara has a wide, shapely mouth, which is usually slightly open.
At four feet ten and a half and eighty-two pounds, her body looks
like a Vanna White doll. (Richard Callaghan, her coach, looks unnervingly
like Pat Sajak.) "I put my arms around her and I go, 'Oh, gosh,
it feels like my little boy,'" Peggy Fleming told me. "Those little,
teeny shoulders and that little, teeny frame!" Kwan's coach, Frank
Carroll, explained, "As a skater, your strength-size ratio is at
its highest when you're a thirteen-year-old girl. With boys, that's
not true. Their backs aren't strong enough yet at that age." He
also told me, "Tara rotates like a bat out of hell."
Tara's advisers refer to her as the Boss. Her
confidence is terrifying. "A lot of skaters love to skate, but when
they're out there competing they're like 'Just get me out of this!'"
she told me now, sucking on a squirt bottle that was half full of
a pink sports drink. "But I love to compete. Even as much as you
hate the nervousness when you're out there, when you look back it's
the best part of it--competing."
Her agent has got Tara endorsement deals with
Minute Maid orange juice and Campbell's soups, and has signed her
up with DKNY to flog a line of kids' clothing and with Mattel to
promote a new line of Barbie dolls on ice skates, which will be
marketed around the time of the Olympics. Tara likes to warm up
to "Barbie Girl," by the Danish group Aqua:"I'm a Barbie Girl/In
a Barbie World/Life in plastic/It's fantastic!"
I asked Tara whether she had any fear of winning.
She looked at me like this was a funny joke. "Nope. I don't think
about it," she said.
"Do you ever doubt yourself?"
"Oh, I think every skater has doubts. You'll
go out there, and doubt will come in, and that's when you have to
fight against it, and not hold back. Sometimes when I do my triple
lutz in my short program, it's like 'Oh, my gosh, it's coming.'
That's when you just have to let go and do it, and I think that's
the hardest part of competing--keeping yourself strong like that.
You just have to let the doubt come in and let it roll back out and do your thing. It's hard.
And sometimes if you're tired, and your legs aren't perfect that
day, that's when the doubt will get you."
Some skaters say that the top international
skating events are often decided at the practice sessions on the
afternoon of the day they take place. The skaters do their routines
with no pressure on them, and it's easy to tell who's got the jumps
and who hasn't. Watching the girls practice gives the judges a good
idea of who should win, and that will figure in the marks they give
that night. Also, at practice the judges can mingle and meet the
girls. In some ways, the campaign for the women's gold medal remains
a charm contest. The competition itself is only the last of a long
series of opportunities the skaters have had to show themselves
as happy, beautiful, and ladylike for the judges.
At practice on Friday afternoon in the arena,
the judges were sitting at their tables, chatting with some of the
skaters who were seated behind them. The judges were, for the most
part, older people with deep roots in the pre-athletic skating era;
some had been volunteering for forty years. They are the ministers
of Skatingland, whose authority as interpreters of beautiful skating
is under siege from vulgar athleticism. Most amateur competitions
are now largely a matter of counting the number of a skater's jumps
and rotations rather than of assessing the skater's grace. Professional
competitions are becoming the last refuge of "artistic merit." The
skating establishment has also been slow to adopt the new bootmaking
technologies that have revolutionized roller-skating. Dorothy Hamill
told me, "The boots are all hand-lasted and custom-made, and the
blades are steel, so they weigh a lot. If Brian Boitano were wearing
a lightweight plastic boot and a titanium blade, he'd be able to
do five rotations in the air tomorrow."
Dick Button was holding court down below the
platform where he would be seated with Peggy Fleming that night.
The skating people in the stands talked about the height on the
fourteen-year-old Russian Yevgeny Plushenko's triple axel: "And
he does a Bielmann spin, the only man who does one!" And where was
Nicole Bobek, the vixen, the current scarlet woman of U.S. skating,
who has had to shoulder all the adult sexuality that Michelle and
Tara have shrugged off? ("Nicole will eat you alive," I was told
when I inquired about interviewing her.) Reporters from both the
respectable and the tabloid media were combing the rows, searching
for narratives to replace the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan mother
lode of four years ago. The clean, cutting sound of blades on ice
pleasantly filled the huge, empty arena, in which the Red Wings
won the Stanley Cup last June.
Tara's physique was the hot topic of the practice.
Her rivals, looking hopefully for some sign of development in the
bust or hips, were disappointed, but she was definitely longer in
the body than she had been last winter--two inches, by some estimates,
though Mike Burg, her agent, said she had grown only an inch. I
sat with Burg for a while, about twenty rows behind the judges.
Nearby, Tara was stretching her glutes. Photographers honeybeed
around her. The camera loves Tara for some of the same reasons that
the camera loved JonBenet Ramsey. That particular combination of
woman and child is something you don't see every day.
Tara and Michelle began working through their
routines, gliding around three other skaters who were on the ice.
It was amazing how none of them crashed into one another, but then
near-misses are a good way of psyching out an opponent. Whether
or not Surya Bonaly, from France, had intended to rattle the Japanese
skater Midori Ito by doing a back flip near her in the 1992 Winter
Olympics is the stuff of which skating lore is made.
Most of the people I saw at the practice thought
Kwan was the better skater. "I think Michelle is much more of an
artist than Tara is ready to be," Peggy Fleming said, "so, if it
turns out that both are skating really, really well, Michelle has
it, hands down." Dick Button told me, "Tara doesn't yet know how
to command you to understand what she's doing." To me it seemed
that the difference between Michelle and Tara was not the jumps
but the awareness of what a jump means. With Michelle, there is
a moment of thought before the jump and then a delicious afterthought--a
look back at the jump--when it's over, whereas Tara flings herself
into her jumps without those little bits of embroidery that connect
the airborne to the earthbound. Her jumps lack the awareness of
what they overcome.
But if the knowledge that one could fall was
what made Michelle a more artistic skater than Tara it also increased
the chances that Michelle would fall. The consensus among the skating
press was that Tara had the psychological advantage. Michelle knew
she had to make no mistakes, because Tara certainly wouldn't make
any, and the pressure this knowledge placed on Michelle would cause
a slip--some sixteenth of an inch off on her triple-loop combination--and
a slip was all it would take for Tara to win.
The short program, which was skated on
Friday night, is the only thing that remains of the old world of
school figures, of which there were sixty-nine in all--eights, threes,
double threes, loops, brackets, done on all edges, skating forward
and skating backward. Skaters called them "doing patch," because
each skater made the figures on his or her own patch of clean ice.
(The reason there were so many 4 A.M. days in a skater's life was
that the skater had to get the cleanest ice.) School used to be
all there was to figure skating until Sonja Henie brought dance
to the sport, in the thirties. The remaining required elements in
the short program are spins, footwork, and jumps, including a double
axel and one triple-jump combination. Both the short and the long
programs get two marks--a "technical" mark and a mark for "presentation,"
or artistic impression.
The girls came out in their new skating outfits--each
girl has one for the short program, one for the long--which they
will wear throughout the season. Michelle's was a backless burnt-orange-and-cream
number with flutters around the skirt; Tara's was sequinned around
the shoulders, and was done in a style that Jere Longman, of the
Times, described as conveying the message "I'm going to my First
Communion and I intend to yodel." Both Michelle and Tara were heavily
made up, and their hair was in elegantly coiffed buns on the top
of their heads.
Michelle looked awful in the warmup. She fell
on her triple-lutz/double-toe, and then, incredibly, she missed
a routine double axel. Frank Carroll, her coach, was standing in
the skaters' box, called the Kiss and Cry, on the edge of the rink.
Wearing a dark-blue pin-striped suit, with a camel overcoat draped
over one arm, he watched as his best hope for an Olympic gold in
a long and distinguished career--it had reached silver with Linda
Fratianne, in 1980--started falling apart. After missing the axel,
Michelle just stood there, her hands on her hips, looking down.
Then she left the ice.
"She's cracking," one of the reporters
But both girls skated error-free short programs.
Artistically, Michelle looked better. Technically, Tara's program
was more difficult than Michelle's: it had a triple flip in it,
whereas Michelle's had only the triple lutz. Even so, eight of the
nine judges marked Michelle ahead of Tara on technical merit. At
the press conference afterward, Tara seemed a little annoyed. "My
jumps actually felt stronger than they did at Worlds," she said,
"but I guess the judges didn't think so." Mike Burg later elaborated
on Tara's remarks, explaining that in his view the judges, who were
very old-fashioned, were simply biased against Tara. Having tolerated
athleticism for the sake ofTV ratings, and unleashed these young
triple-jumping demons, he said the judges were now trying to put
a lid on it by marking the better athletes down. In other words,
the judges were voting for Skatingland.
The ladies' "free skate," or long program,
is by far the most popular activity in women's sports--the only
sports event in which the women's version is more popular than the
men's. (In 1994, the ladies' long program at Lillehammer ranked
fourth on TV's all-time most-watched list.) These four minutes are
as pure a dose of live performance as the media offer. For the athletes,
they are also among the most pitiless and harrowing four minutes
in sports. Although the long program is an endurance event--within
a minute and a half the exercise becomes anaerobic--the skater has
to continue to look as if she were enjoying herself. The smile at
the end of the routine is of the utmost importance: skaters practice
many hours in front of the mirror to get it right. Sweat, which
is celebrated by the new magazines for women's sports, is still
not acceptable in figure skating. (Among the lingering images of
the tawdry Tonya affair are the chalky white clumps of deodorant
you saw whenever she lifted her arms.) "If you show you're sweating,
you're not in shape," Peggy Fleming told me. "You're showing that
you're weak." She added, "The process is designed to find any sign
of weakness and apply pressure until it breaks."
In the morning on the day of the ladies' long
program, I ran into Frank Carroll in the Renaissance Burger King.
We talked about Michelle's short. Carroll observed that it was a
relief that the program seemed to have been well received by the
judges. "I just wish Michelle had a little more confidence," he
said before biting into his Croissan'wich. "She is the best, after
That night, at the Joe Louis Arena, the crowd
was dressier. Even the Zamboni driver had made an effort to spruce
himself up. Peggy Fleming was wearing a startlingly low-cut black
dress, her cleavage partly obscured by a chiffon modesty panel,
which is very skating. Dick was in his usual blue blazer and conservative
slacks. The flower girls--little girls who skate onto the ice and
collect flowers and stuffed animals that fans have thrown to their
idols--wore tartan skirts, white kneesocks, and blouses with Polish
As the awful, blinding pressure began to build,
partisans of both the Tara and the Michelle camps could be found
prowling the great old halls outside the Joe Louis Arena. "At least,
it's not me out there," Lori Nichol, Michelle's choreographer, said.
The concessions weren't doing much business: people seemed too nervous
to eat. Only the eight-year-old-girl fans, practicing axels on the
way to the ladies' room, seemed unfazed by the pressure.
Michelle's father, Danny, went by, and disappeared
into the recesses of the hall. When Michelle skates, he settles
somewhere in the rafters to watch. He doesn't want the camera to
find him. Like Venus Williams's dad and Tiger Woods's dad, Danny
is Michelle's sports superego. He retired early from his job at
Pacific Bell, and this summer he sold a family-owned Chinese restaurant
in Torrance, the Golden Pheasant. He now lives in Lake Arrowhead
with Michelle, and keeps a close eye on her, giving her few chances
to slip up.
"Have you ever made a huge mistake?" I
once asked Michelle when we were having lunch with her mom and dad
in Lake Arrowhead. "Done something really foolish?"
"I don't know," Michelle said, thinking.
"I'm not really good at lying, so..." She looked across the table
at her father and said, laughing, "Why do you have that smirk on
Danny said, "I'm thinking. I can't think of anything."
"How about boys?" I asked Michelle. "You
have a boyfriend?"
Danny made a face, then smiled.
"Dad always laughs," Michelle said. "No,
I don't. It's Lake Arrowhead."
"No suitable boys?"
Michelle giggled. "Not in skating."
Estella said, "She's still very young."
"Asian parents..." Michelle grumbled.
"I don't think it's Asian," Danny said,
and leaned forward. "Let me try to go back to--" "Lecture No. 1,859,"
Michelle put in.
"I never say you can't have a boyfriend.
I don't. As I try to explain to her, you put three things together
in life. What's No. 1 in priority for you? Your No. 1 priority is
skating. And then you also have school. Then comes the fun part--like
dating, or something else. So you put the three things together--
She always complains I analyze too much, but I say put these three
things together, you make the decision. Dating, can it wait? Yes,
it can wait. Can education wait? Yes and no. Can skating wait? No,
it can't wait. You have to do it now."
Michelle sighed. "I always look at my parents
like they're so wise. But if they're so wise, how come they're not
"Because I'm a loser," Danny said. "I lose
Michelle came out of the tunnel and stood
by the rink, waiting to skate. She tugged on her dress, practiced
some moves with her arms, and made little shaking movements with
her legs, trying to stay loose. When it was time for her to take
the ice, she relaxed her shoulders and stepped with her left skate
first, an old habit. She assumed her pose in the center of the ice,
looking down, and took a deep breath. The music began--"Lyra Angelica,"
by William Alwyn. First came the triple-lutz/double-toe-loop, right
into the triple-toe-loop/double-toe-loop, which landed perfectly,
right in front of the Thrifty Car Rental sign. Then the triple flip,
then a double axel. Three triples down. The music changed, and Michelle
took a charming little giddyap stride of happiness. Away, doubt
and confusion. Hello, Mickey, President Clinton, David Letterman.
A triple loop, then a triple salchow, and then the final jump, the
triple lutz--perfect. Hello, America! She glided into her spiral
sequence--the loveliest part of her program, in which she spreads
her arms, leans out, and joyously offers up this beautiful thing
she has just done for the audience to savor. She finished with a
triple toe loop and a butterfly jump. And then the smile, which
is the deal clincher. Michelle has the best smile in the business.
It has a limpid quality, like the Little Mermaid's smile.
The crowd stood and applauded for several minutes.
Cellophane-wrapped bouquets rained down on the ice; the flower girls
delivered them to Michelle in Kiss and Cry. The marks were very
good: all 5.8s for technical merit, and all 5.9s for presentation.
A cameraman found Danny, and the Jumbotron over the scoreboard showed
him slapping someone a high five.
"Representing the United States, Tara Lipinski..."
As Tara skated to the center of the ice, eight-year-old
girls' voices calling out "Go, Tara!" echoed in the otherwise silent
arena. Tara's music began, the soundtrack for the movie "The Rainbow."
She smoothly landed a double axel, then did a perfect triple flip.
Now came her triple lutz. She kicked her right leg high, jumped,
and--bang!--she hit the ice hard. A quick, shocked intake of crowd
breath. Tara fell! Tara hadn't fallen since Germany in 1996. But
there she was, sitting on her glutes, another fallen princess. She
got up off the ice and skated the rest of the program cleanly, finishing
second to Michelle.
Afterward, both girls faced the skating press,
sitting side by side on a raised dais. Michelle spoke first. "I
can say that I came out of my coma," she said. "I feel different
this year. The joy is back." She smiled her thrilled-little-girl
Tara sat there with her lips parted, a slightly
haughty look on her face. When Michelle finished, she spoke curtly.
"The mistake I made was not a big deal," she said, crossing her
arms. "It was just a mistake." She paused, and looked over the heads
of the press, perhaps catching a glimpse of her rapidly vanishing
childhood, with its unself-conscious, ballerina-on-a-music-box rotations.
You could hear in her voice a slight false note of confidence as
she said, "I think I am still in a good spot."
Copyright © John Seabrook 2003. All rights
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