Winter Olympics royalty

Posted: Friday, February 08, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- The first thing you notice is the hair and makeup; absolutely impeccable. You wouldn't have said that of the biathletes, sliders or short-track speed skaters during their pre-Olympic press conferences.

The next thing that jumps out are the personal coaches who accompany these Olympic "team members'' -- quote marks required for athletes who are as much a part of a team as Barry Bonds. One of the three is unaccompanied, however, because she fired her coach.

The nature of the press questioning is a little different, too. But "Who are you wearing?'' is as acceptable here as on the red carpet at the Golden Globes.

"Vera Wang,'' Michelle Kwan responds immediately to an inquiry that might have floored Picabo Street.

They are the queens of the Winter Olympics, and Kwan, Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes -- the U.S. women's figure skating "team'' -- made their first regal appearance here Friday. An overflow crowd of media courtesans packed the ballroom interview area that wasn't 25 percent full when the nordic combined team was here yesterday.

You think these girls -- Kwan being the only qualifier for "young woman'' status at age 21 -- don't get special consideration?

Consider this. Every other Olympic sport involving females is called "women's bobsled, women's downhill.'' But the Olympic program designation for Kwan's event is "ladies figure skating.''

Does this mean Kwan is more of a lady than hockey forward Karyn Bye? And what does Frank Carroll, Kwan's recently disposed coach, think of this designation?

But because NBC tells us that ladies figure skating attracts more viewers than any other Olympic sport, winter or summer, we will give Kwan and her court their propers -- can you use "props'' and figure skating in the same sentence? -- and dutifully report anything that passed for news coming from Friday's news conference.

--Cohen, the most athletic skater in these games, will not attempt a quad during any of her programs, which begins on Feb. 19.

"Until I can do a higher percentage of them well, I'll do a safer program I'm more comfortable with,'' the 17-year-old Californian said.

--Hughes has changed the last 90 seconds of her long program. I don't know what that means, but I'm told it qualifies as news.

--Kwan, the 1998 Olympic silver medalist and one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World'' -- says she will spend more time with the commoners in the Olympic Village this year.

Criticized last year for not marching with the American team in the '98 opening and closing ceremonies, Kwan marched into Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday night and might actually hang around for a few days afterward.

"I thought about going home after the Opening Ceremonies, because I don't compete for almost two weeks,'' she said. "But I've been walking around the Village and meeting a lot of other great athletes. I go to the gym and watch all these other people working out and wonder what sport they're in. Everybody has been so nice, I decided to stay.''

It's called the Olympic spirit. Even the queen can catch it.

All irreverence aside, America will be rooting hard for this trio of ice princesses come Feb. 19 and 21. John Nicks, the longtime successful coach who now is working with Cohen, believes they will find plenty to cheer about.

"I have this exciting vision of the final six in the long program being three Americans and three Russians -- the classic confrontation,'' Nicks said Friday. "I really think our team can come away with two of those medals.''

"Why not three?'' Kwan quickly asked.

Ah, it's good to be the queen.

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