January 29, 1996

Anyone who thinks the sport of figure skating isn't a
never-ending morality play should have been at the U.S.
nationals in San Jose last week. Greed and complacency? Smitten
with a righteous vengeance. Hard work and dedication? Rewarded
with gold. Poverty, suffering and faith? Visited by a genuine
miracle. There was even sort of a moral to the weekend: If you
are offered a role in the Nutcracker, hang up the phone and get
back out to practice, because it's the devil and he's after your

Two new singles national champions emerged from the proceedings,
both of whom skated virtually without error but arrived via far
different roads. They were 15-year-old Michelle Kwan, the
youngest ladies' winner since Peggy Fleming (who was also 15) in
1964, and 26-year-old Rudy Galindo, the oldest men's champion
since someone named Chris Christenson won, at age 51, in '26,
and the unquestioned star of the week.

Kwan's ascendancy had been long predicted. Ever since she
arrived on the senior scene from Torrance, Calif., as a 4'9",
77-pound 13-year-old, complete with her own agent, experts have
heralded her as the champion-in-waiting. Kwan had all the tools:
a topflight coach in Frank Carroll, uncommon grace and style,
and the usual assortment of women's jumps, which is to say,
everything but the triple Axel. Most important, she had the
focus, discipline and work ethic of all the past U.S. greats,
from Fleming to Kristi Yamaguchi.

So it was no great surprise that Kwan, who has matured into a
5'2", 98-pound young woman polished in the application of
makeup, won easily. She has been extraordinarily consistent in
her performances all year.

But even the most fertile imagination would have had trouble
foreseeing the sudden demise of the defending champion,
18-year-old Nicole Bobek. Chicago-born and raised by way of the
four winds, Bobek is described beautifully by one skater as
"Marilyn on ice." Blonde, long-limbed and unapologetically
flirtatious, she is Kwan's philosophical opposite: a devotee of
the Christopher Bowman-Tonya Harding School of Talent Disposal,
with an almost religious aversion to training.

In the past nine years Bobek has been through nine coaches, the
most recent change having come in December, when she left
Richard Callaghan--under whose firm hand she won the 1995
national title and the bronze medal at the world
championships--for Barbara Roles Williams of Las Vegas, one of
her previous coaches. Neither Bobek nor Callaghan was specific
about their split, but Bobek's enthusiasm for training clearly
had waned even further since last year. It showed last fall when
she finished sixth in a weak Skate America field in Detroit,
then third in the Nation's Cup in Frankfurt. Kwan won both
events. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Bobek starred in a
20-city Nutcracker on Ice tour, for which she was reportedly
paid $90,000. It was in that period that she announced she was
leaving Callaghan.

It was also in the midst of that tour that Bobek aggravated a
tendon injury on the inside of her right ankle--the ankle she
lands on when she jumps. A doctor told her the best therapy
would be to take two or three weeks off. "Yeah, right," Bobek
responded. "I have no time to take off."

The show must go on. Admirable if you are a showgirl, but Bobek
was still masquerading as an athlete. After her Nutcracker
stint, she continued to be troubled by the tendon. Roles
Williams asked whether Bobek might be awarded a bye onto the
U.S. team that will compete in the worlds in Edmonton if she was
unable to compete at the nationals. Morry Stillwell, the U.S.
Figure Skating Association (USFSA) president, advised Bobek to
show up and skate.

Bobek got it half right. She blew into San Jose, held a charming
if disingenuous press conference--"I'm a woman," she purred when
asked about the differences between her skating and Kwan's--and
displayed a singular inability to land her triple Lutz at
practice. During last Friday's short program Bobek touched down
with her hand after landing the Lutz, a mistake that put her in
third behind Kwan and 24-year-old Tonia Kwiatkowski. Afterward
Bobek complained about the pain in her ankle but vowed to
soldier on.

At the next morning's practice, she said, the ankle felt all
right, but it began to swell in the afternoon. She tested it in
warmups that night, felt it was tender and had Warren King, a
Bay Area orthopedist, examine it minutes before she was to
skate. By mutual decision Bobek, Roles Williams and King told
officials Bobek would withdraw. Even as that decision was being
made, Kwan was skating a brilliant and mature program that
included seven triple jumps, two of which were in combination
(with one of those a triple triple). Two good ankles would not
have been enough for Bobek to surpass Kwan's performance. King's
prognosis: With two or three weeks rest, Bobek's ankle should be

Bobek has plenty of time to rest now. After the competition, the
USFSA, ignoring its own precedents, refused to grant Bobek a bye
onto the U.S. team. The top three finishers from the nationals
will go to Edmonton in March: Kwan, Kwiatkowski and 13-year-old
Tara Lipinski.

The message to future ice queens and fairy princesses was clear:
This is the USFSA's show, and you play by its rules. (Remember
Tonya and Nancy.) With all the opportunities now out there for
both amateur and professional skaters, it's easy to lose sight
of how the figure skating boom was launched. (Tonya and Nancy.)
It wasn't the Hershey's Kisses Pro-Am Championships or the
Nutcracker tour. It was...Tonya and Nancy, with the 1994
attack by associates of Harding on Kerrigan and the ensuing
deluge of publicity. Now if competitors don't train properly, if
the skaters practice till dawn for the Rock-and-Roll Skating
Championships, where's that going to lead? (Tonya and Nicole?)

"In amateur skating we tend to lose our focus," says Kathy
Casey, another of Bobek's former coaches. "With all these
outside events and competitions, the skaters have improved their
ability to perform to a crowd and entertain, but I don't think
the level of amateur skating has improved. Where are all the
triple-triple combinations?"

It seemed that they were all in Rudy Galindo's programs. He
landed the two triple triples he tried, while defending champion
Todd Eldredge, another member of the Nutcracker cast, landed,
and attempted...hmm, let's count them...none. Same with
Scott Davis, Casey's pupil and a former two-time national
champion, who slid all the way to fifth--proof that not
everything that went wrong in San Jose could be attributed to
Tchaikovsky. Davis turned down an offer to tour with the

Galindo, who lives in a trailer park in San Jose with his
mother, had no such offers. As skating's star has risen, Galindo
was all but left behind--until he provided the nationals with the
most stirring men's performance in years.

Galindo is not a stranger to the winner's spot on the podium. He
and Yamaguchi were U.S. pairs champions in 1989 and '90, before
Yamaguchi gave up pairs skating to dedicate herself to singles.
That was shortly after the start of a run of ill fortune that
nearly drove Galindo from the sport. It began in '89, when Jim
Hulick, the coach who put Galindo and Yamaguchi together, died
of AIDS-related cancer. That was the first of four deaths that
left Galindo wondering if he was cursed. In '93 his father,
Jess, died of a heart attack and his 35-year-old brother,
George, died of AIDS. Last year Rick Inglesi, Galindo's second
coach, also succumbed to the disease.

Galindo is gay. He doesn't talk about it much publicly, in part
because his outlandish costumes and effeminate manner have done
him no favors with the staid figure skating establishment--the
judges and USFSA officials--which prefers its gay male skaters
and coaches to remain in the closet. Galindo could never say
that his lifestyle cost him a medal, because his skating was
never before consistent enough under pressure to make him a
serious contender in singles. He was fifth in 1993 but fell to
seventh in '94 and to eighth in '95.

For six months after last year's disappointment at the
nationals, Galindo quit training. He was broke and
disillusioned. No one in the skating establishment called to ask
Galindo to give it one more try. No one offered him a spot on a
tour. To raise money, he began giving skating lessons. But he
believed in his art, still loved to practice and kept thinking
that with the nationals coming to San Jose, how nice it would be
to skate in a place where people were pulling for him rather
than against him.

So during the fall he resumed training. He hired his sister,
Laura--who came free--as his coach, and since he didn't have money
to hire a choreographer, he created his own programs. From the
start the training went well. Galindo has always been an
artistic and imaginative spinner. But his jumps--rather, his
failure to land them--had always been his undoing, especially
during the short program.

So it was something of a shock last Thursday when, wearing a
judge-unfriendly goatee and earring, Galindo pulled off a
flawless short program that included the only triple Axel-triple
toe among the top three men. If he'd had a reputation with the
judges, he might have placed first. As it was, Eldredge, who
also skated without a mistake, earned the top marks. Davis, who
touched a hand to the ice on a double Axel, was second, and
Galindo was third.

Few observers expected him to hold his position. If he made the
slightest error in the long program, the judges would surely
hammer him. Then a funny thing happened: Galindo made no
mistakes Saturday. And it was clear to everyone in the San Jose
Arena that, on that day anyway, there was only one world-class
skater in the bunch.

Long before Galindo had stopped his final, dramatic
spin--whirling across the ice into a death drop, then contorting
his body into something he calls the eggbeater--the crowd of
10,869 had risen as one to its feet. Galindo was now skating,
not to Swan Lake, but to a roaring wave of noise, ever growing
as he neared his conclusion. Clenching his fists over his head
as he finished, he glanced skyward and crossed himself in
prayer. It was all as Galindo had pictured the day before--coming
off the ice with everyone in the arena standing. It was as if
he'd done it all before.

The marks went up. There are no guarantees in skating, and even
after Galindo's brilliance--eight flawless triples, including two
breathtaking triple-triple combinations--many doubted judges
would place him over Eldredge, the three-time champion. But
perfect 6.0s for artistic merit from two of the nine judges told
Galindo all he needed to know.

Tears welled in the eyes of many of his fellow competitors, and
hair rose on the backs of reporters' necks. This was more than
an underdog-skates-his-heart-out story, more than a
hometown-boy-makes-good. This was, pure and simple, a miracle: a
moment that years from now, coaches will point to when asking
some down-at-the-mouth student to believe that no matter how
badly luck and the USFSA seem to be conspiring against you,
anything's possible if you will not allow yourself to quit.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN In front of a crowd or a makeup mirror, the 15-year-old Kwan displays the steady hand of a mature artist. [Michelle Kwan] TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN When a bum right ankle shelved Bobek (below), Lipinski, 13, whirled her way to the worlds. [Nicole Bobek; Tara Lipinski] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLANFor Galindo, the hometown finish was heavenly. [Rudy Galindo]

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)