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Skater, Wrestler To Open Olympics

February 5, 1998

NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ Tara Lipinski knew there would be big moments at her first Olympics _ but THIS big?

The tiny U.S. figure skater stared in wonder today as she encountered the immense Japanese sumo wrestling grand champion Akebono in a staged-for-TV show.

She is 15 and so small _ 4-foot-8 and 82 pounds _ she almost could be weighed on a postage meter. He’s so big _ 6-8 and 516 pounds _ that he would dwarf any NFL lineman.

``Ahh, it’s beauty and the beast,″ Akebono said as they exchanged flags and smiles _ if not training table secrets _ in a segment taped for the CBS-TV show ``48 Hours.″

Akebono, a native of Hawaii who is the most revered athlete in Japan and will take part in the opening ceremonies, waited patiently for nearly 80 minutes as Lipinski skated at the Olympic practice rink.

Naturally, he got hungry, so he hustled the CBS crew out the door and through the drive-through line at a nearby McDonald’s _ sans automobile. When he placed an order for 15 hamburgers, the manager came out to explain he needed a car.

But when he realized his customer was the best-known athlete in Japan, the order was quickly filled.

When the two athletes finally met in a small room off the rink, a beaming Lipinski, dressed in warmup clothes, smiled and presented Akebono with an American flag. Even standing on tippy-toes, her head was only stomach-level with Akebono.

``C’mon in, c’mon in,″ said Akebono, who formerly was known as Chad Rowan. ``I’ve always wanted to meet you.″

Lipinski couldn’t get over Akebono’s size, repeatedly looking up at him, smiling, then shyly dropping her eyes.

Would Lipinski like to be Akebono’s size for just a day?

``Uhh, maybe _ if I wasn’t so-o-o-o big,″ she said.

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