Copyright 1998 The Kansas City Star Co. THE KANSAS CITY STAR July 12, 1998 Sunday METROPOLITAN EDITION SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. C3 LENGTH: 929 words HEADLINE: Frozen wish Bobek puts Olympic debacle behind her BYLINE: MIKE DeARMOND, Staff Writer BODY: Her elbows, knees, shoulders and rear end went bump in the Olympic night. She has discarded nearly as many coaches as costumes. She has finished third so many times at the U.S. figure skating nationals that you automatically go, "A one, and a two and a Bobek." But perhaps because she is a flesh and bloodied part of U.S. skating history, all eyes are going to be on Nicole Bobek on Wednesday night at Kemper Arena in the Campbell's Soups "Champions on Ice" Tour. Rest assured, ticket buyers, Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski will skate. So will Olympic silver medalist Michelle Kwan. But the one we watch with an eye for something extra is Bobek. Because she seems like one of us. A girl next door at 5 feet 5 and 118 pounds. Not a 4-11, 75-pound bundle of flying pick-up sticks like Lipinski, who just turned 16. Not the blown-glass elegance of 5-1, 90-pound Kwan. "There is just too much talk on how people should be and how they should act," Bobek said. "People portray us as these perfect little princesses. Well, we're not. We're really just normal people." Oh, Bobek has flubbed a lutz or two and stubbed her toe in the glare of the spotlight. Was that an earthquake back in Nagano or Bobek falling down to 17th, behind so many never-weres and never-will-bes, during the Winter Games in Japan? She dissolved into tears and monosyllabic mutters in Nagano. Talked about fighting the good fight, about not quitting. "Go on, go! " she told herself on that final Olympic night when it was an obvious struggle for her simply to stand on her skates. "Don't lose it now. Don't lose that pushing and going for it." Months later, she hasn't changed the perspective. "As I remember it now, I was extremely nervous," she said. "That was a hard run-through, but it was a good experience. Millions of people in the world would give anything to be on the Olympic team, no matter what place you end up." Bobek, of course, is no beginner when it comes to adversity. At the '97 World Championships, her coach, Carlo Fassi, died. After Bobek won the U.S. national title in 1995, she missed most of the '96 season because of an ankle injury, and she couldn't even defend her U.S. championship. "I've had a few tough things," Bobek said. "But life is a learning experience. I've just learned to deal with things a lot earlier than some people have, especially people my age." In her 20 years, Bobek has been assigned to her competitive grave at least twice. But she has been as stubbornly resilient as an aging pugilist who insists that if he goes down, he will go down fighting. She fights, Bobek said, because people pay to see her fight. "I've had tons of support," she said, talking about life after the Olympics and all through the marathon Campbell's Tour. The performance Wednesday night in Kansas City will be the 66th show since the tour began April 8 in Baltimore. While Lipinski and Kwan have taken a week or two off here and there, Bobek has been there for every performance. "Because," she said with a trademark chortle, "I get paid less, and I need to do them." The tour ends this week with five shows in five days in Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago. "That's where the audience comes in," Bobek said. "They are so into the music and everything. Once they get in, your adrenaline starts pumping. They really help you get through the night. "They want to see you. They are there to see you. There are so many nights when you say, 'I don't want to do this. I'm so tired. ' But you get out there, and you do it because they are there. And then you're glad you did it." Kwan and Bobek won't take much time off at the end of the tour. Both will skate in the Goodwill Games in New York during the figure-skating competition, which is July 29-Aug. 2. The Goodwill Games will mark the return of the beast that hurt Bobek at the Olympics: competitive skating. "The tour gives us a great chance to get out there and do whatever we feel, not worry about the judges," she said. "We're out there just skating for ourselves and for the audience. You don't have to worry about the pressure." But Bobek wouldn't be Bobek if she didn't welcome the pressure of judged competition as well. "It gives me a good chance to go out and prove that I am still here," she explains. "To say, 'Don't forget about me. ' " Forget Bobek? Not likely. "A lot of people are really hidden with their real personalities," she said. "Me, I'm just not very good at hiding my feelings. When I'm on the ice, I like to project that to the audience. That makes me very unique, very different from the other skaters. Hopefully, people identify with that." Skaters in KC WHAT: The Campbell's Soups "Champions on Ice" Tour WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Kemper Arena WHO: Tara Lipinski, Michelle Kwan, Nicole Bobek, Elvis Stojko, Victor Petrenko and Todd Eldredge are among those scheduled to appear. TICKET INFORMATION: Tickets are available at any Ticket-master location or by calling 931-3330. GRAPHIC: Photo, Nicole Bobek; Special to The Star LOAD-DATE: July 12, 1998
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