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Kwan: Bad Toe But Plenty of Heart

January 7, 1998

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Michelle Kwan has done triple toe loops a million times. Plant that left toe pick in the ice and BOOM! she’s flying through the air.

No problems, no pain, no nothing. Until early November, that is.

``I put that toe in and it was just like, `Wow! OUCH!″ Kwan said Tuesday at the U.S. championships, widening her eyes and sitting up a little straighter at the painful memory.

A stress fracture in her left foot made it nearly impossible to do the triple toe or the salchow, two of the easiest triple jumps. She’d take off, and pain would shoot through her foot.

Sometimes it would linger for only a few moments; other times, like when she fell at Skate Canada, it stayed with her through the rest of her program. An orthopedic surgeon told her the only way her foot would heal completely was to put it in a cast and stay off the ice for six weeks.

``I thought, `I can’t do that,‴ the 1996 world and U.S. champion said, shaking her head. ``Then I wouldn’t be ready for nationals. Maybe I wouldn’t be ready for the Olympics. So we’ve kind of rushed the recovery process.″

And while most people might back off while nursing an injury, Kwan is doing just the opposite. It still hurts to do the triple toe, so she’s doing a triple flip in her short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships instead.

The triple flip doesn’t hurt because she uses her right foot on the takeoff, but it’s got a higher level of difficulty.

``You get more credit, it’s harder and it’s more consistent, so why not put it in?″ she said. ``Going into the triple toe is easier (than a triple flip), but it’s not an option right now.″

She still does a double toe as part of her combination _ triple lutz-double toe _ but Kwan said that doesn’t hurt. It’s the speed and impact that comes with doing a triple toe by itself that causes the pain.

Despite the change and more difficult program, Kwan said she feels ready for nationals. And if Tuesday’s practice for the short program was any indication, the injury certainly hasn’t cramped her style.

She came out dressed to kill, wearing a sexy, black number that made her look very elegant. She looked relaxed and happy, no stress or pain anywhere on her face. She fell on her triple flip, but was laughing and smiling after practice.

``I feel very good out there,″ she said. ``I know how to do it, I know how to compete.″

She wasn’t so sure of that a couple of weeks ago.

``At Christmas, I was asking myself if I really would be ready for nationals,″ she said. ``Then I said, `Just have fun, don’t worry about it, everything will still wind up the way it is. So go with the flow and let it happen.′

``The injury hit me in the head and I said I would really enjoy myself. This is the Olympic year and I’ve been waiting for it since I was 5 years old.″

While Kwan could have probably skipped this week and still gotten to the Olympics next month in Nagano, Japan _ Todd Eldredge (1992) and Nancy Kerrigan (1994) were given injury byes onto the Olympic squad _ she didn’t want to do that.

She wanted to earn her moment, and that meant coming to nationals, sore foot and all.

``If I can do it now,″ she said, ``I can do it anytime.″