Copyright 2000 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. Chicago Sun-Times April 23, 2000, SUNDAY, First Edition SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. 111 LENGTH: 564 words HEADLINE: Teen Turmoil in the past; Bobek starting to settle down for her final career push SOURCE: GENE J. PUSKAR; ASSOCIATED PRESS BYLINE: BY NANCY ARMOUR BODY: Figure skating's wild child is all grown up. Nicole Bobek no longer wears rings on every finger or hopscotches across the country from coach to coach. At 22, Bobek just bought a house, is happily settled in Florida and wants one more chance to finish her career on her terms, perhaps at the 2002 Winter Olympics. "There comes a stage for everyone where you start to grow up and start to realize more of your responsibilities, the work you need to do," said Bobek, the 1995 U.S. champion and world bronze medalist. "But then you find that you enjoy it and how much more you can do with yourself when you get older. You start to look at things differently." Getting to this point in her life hasn't been easy. Though she's one of the few skaters who can rival Michelle Kwan in grace and beauty, her career has been marked more by unfulfilled potential than medals. There's been plenty of turmoil and sorrow, most of it public, with her frequent coaching switches and off-ice antics. Then, just as she seemed to be pulling it all together, she was devastated by the sudden death of Carlo Fassi, her coach and father figure, at the 1997 world championships. And who can forget her dismal performance at the Nagano Olympics? She took so many spills and crashes it looked like the X Games. But Bobek sees even that with a new perspective now. "No matter how I cry or try to forget about it, it will never change it. It will never change the performance. It will never change anything about it," she said. "So when I think about it, I think that it was such an honor to even make it. "I wish I could have done a better performance. But I still went, and that's a very big thing for me." Besides a few minor events, Bobek hasn't competed since Nagano. She withdrew from the 1998 World Championships because of a hip injury and pulled out of the 1999 nationals a few days before they started because she felt ill. Although she continues to skate in the Champions on Ice tour, she decided to take time off last year. After so many years of skating, she wanted a break to "enjoy life." "There's a point in every skater's life where they just need time to . . . find their heart's back into the skating," she said. "That they want to be more hungry and do it, and I think that's what I really needed. I feel much fresher out there on the ice. I feel completely different out there." Bobek had planned to skate at this year's nationals, held in February in Cleveland, but she missed the qualifying sectionals with the flu. She applied for a medical bye, but it was denied. "It was very upsetting and disappointing, of course, but there was really nothing I could do about it," she said. "I could have gotten really upset and made a scene about it, but there's really no point. "I know what I am out there on the ice," she said. "That's what makes me go out on the ice, is that I can still go out there on this (Champions) tour and I still get a great response from the audience." It's also why she harbors dreams of Salt Lake City. Although there's a new generation of skaters making its mark -- teenage jumping beans like Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen and Naomi Nari Nam -- Bobek still believes there is a place for her. Just look at Kwan, who won her third world title last month with one of her finest performances ever after almost everyone had written her off.