SECTION: SPORTS SUNDAY; Pg. 18 LENGTH: 620 words HEADLINE: Bobek is living to forget ; Olympic memories nothing she wants to carry with her SOURCE: GEORGE WIDMAN; ASSOCIATED PRESS DATELINE: EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. BODY: The images are indelible: Tara Lipinski's youthful exuberance; Michelle Kwan's grace and maturity; Nicole Bobek's tears and pain. The Nagano Olympics provided memories for each of the three U.S. women's figure skaters. Lipinski will want to relive the entire experience, from the opening ceremony to her days in the athletes village to her gold-medal night at White Ring arena. Kwan will be spurred on to the 2002 Games by recollections of coming up just short, with perhaps the second-best free skate in Olympic history. She seems to cherish her silver medal now, but it's as much a source of inspiration for Salt Lake City as it is of pride in what she achieved in Japan. And Bobek? How does she remember Nagano? "I try not to," she said. "I try not to think about it much, try not to talk about it much. I try to forget the bad memories. I have a lot more life left in me, and it was not the end of the world. "If I do think about it, it's upsetting." Bobek has every reason to be upset. She couldn't stand up in her short program, plummeting to 17th. She wasn't any better in the free skate and wound up 17th again. So much for talk of a U.S. medals sweep. Bobek was on a roll earlier this season. She performed superbly at the national championships, finishing behind Kwan and Lipinski and making the Olympic team. Always a goal, reaching Nagano became almost an obsession after her coach, Carlo Fassi, died of a heart attack at the 1997 world championships. The reality of the Olympics was a major letdown. Bobek, battling bronchitis, remained in California until just six days before the women's competition. When she got to Nagano, her first two practices went well. Then, nothing. "I don't think I would have changed anything I did for the Olympics," said Bobek, currently touring. "I just wasn't at the best I could be. "I think staying back was a better idea. I had more time to try to work things out. And then the first couple of practices were great, untouchable. "Then I kind of fell back. Maybe it was reality kicking in. You're working for it your whole life and it was almost scary to be there. It was extremely hard for me, with all I'd gone through." The Olympics weren't a complete fiasco, though. "I saw some hockey games and the people were great," Bobek said. "The fans in Japan have always treated me very well. They were all supportive, and so were the other athletes when I walked around. The Olympic spirit was all I expected." She also withdrew from the world championships in March with a hip injury and was disappointed she couldn't appear at Minneapolis and erase the stigma of Nagano. "Worlds were upsetting," she said, "but more than anything I did not want to go and have another disastrous performance such as the Olympics. I didn't feel that would be fair to my friends and myself, to go when not in shape or ready to perform at my best. It is hard when you do not have those performances in you." Bobek expects to challenge Kwan for the U.S. crown next February. Unlike Lipinski, who quickly turned pro after the Olympics, Bobek and Kwan remained eligible. Bobek, the 1995 national champ, reasoned that, under International Skating Union rules, there was enough money to be made without becoming a professional. And there's some unfinished business for Bobek, who also is dabbling in modeling and has thought about an acting career. "There isn't any point in turning pro for me," she said. "It's a good chance to stay in another year and make some more accomplishments. "It was hard after the Olympics. It didn't turn out the way I wanted it to and was a hard learning experience. I think I have grown from it and I still have the fire inside of me." GRAPHIC: Nicole Bobek's Olympic experience was one that she doesn't like to think about, so she points forward instead. ; ASSOCIATED PRESS LANGUAGE: English LOAD-DATE: May 26, 1998
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