U.S. Pins Hopes on Kwan-tum Leap

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- Michelle Kwan hasn't won anything of significance as a senior-level skater. Yet she is already being touted as America's next Olympic hope.

That's heady stuff for a giggly 14-year-old, and Kwan is taking it all in. She has already been part of the Tonya-Nancy sideshow, she has already been to an Olympics -- although not as a competitor -- and last year she won the world junior figure skating title.

"I'm fine right now," Kwan said of what has already been a busy season, including a third place at the Trophy of France event and a runner-up finish at Skate America, both behind Surya Bonaly, of France. Bonaly figured to be Kwan's main competition again Tuesday and Wednesday at the International Pro-Am Challenge.

"I still have a lot of energy, and I just have to think of this as something fun," said an excited Kwan.

"After the Pro-Am," she said, "I'll be going to New York for an exhibition, and I will think of it as just having a ball."

Kwan didn't exactly have a ball last winter. After Nancy Kerrigan was attacked at the national championships and withdrew, Kwan wound up second to Tonya Harding. After Harding was implicated in the attack -- which her ex-husband and several of his associates admitted they planned and carried out -- Kwan was put on notice for an Olympic berth.

But Harding reached an agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee and skated in Lillehammer, Norway. Kwan also went to Norway, but she never got to compete.

"I didn't really know what was going on, so I just kept training," Kwan said. "There was nothing, like, bad, about it. But it was a weird experience. It just felt, like, different."

"I didn't have a credential, couldn't go to practices. It wasn't really like the Olympics, and I was there. I didn't really get to go anywhere, and I couldn't watch practices, and that was difficult. But we got to see all the competitions, which was fun."

On the other hand, skating against Bonaly hasn't been much fun for Kwan. The Frenchwoman won both of their meetings this year, more because of Kwan's errors than because of anything Bonaly did.

"She is a very tough competitor," Kwan said.

Bonaly jumped into the event when Olympic champion Oksana Baiul withdrew with a knee problem. Baiul is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, although she has competed in several big-money events this fall.

On the men's side, Olympic champions Alexei Urmanov of Russia, who won at Lillehammer, and 1992 gold medalist Viktor Petrenko of Ukraine will oppose two-time U.S. champions Scott Davis and Todd Eldredge.