Men who had never met her proposed marriage. One named his race horse after her. Fans approached her when she went shopping, and autograph seekers clustered in the stands to watch her daily workouts.
But today, Tiffany Chin, the 17-year-old figure skater who dazzled audiences during the Sarajevo Olympics, is shunning the publicity that had begun to dilute her concentration and make her life “too soft, too glamorous,” her mother said.
“We don’t want her to live like a celebrity anymore,” said Marjorie Chin. “Too much publicity,” she said, changed Tiffany. “She wasn’t the same girl anymore. She began to feel like a star, even in skating. She can’t concentrate as much as she used to.”
Tiffany said she was the first to notice the change in herself. “When I got back into skating, I just wasn’t into it,” she said. “If there’s too much publicity, it can really throw you off track.”
‘Less Alert’ in Training
She said she became “less alert to training. You have to have your whole mind on that, and just that. I’d dwell on what happened the other day, or look forward to (another publicity event). It’s better if you have less going in.”
The media exile, her mother says, “was initiated by her. She was way behind in school.” Training for the Olympics and the world championships took her away from Providence High School, leaving her three courses behind her fellow high school juniors. She will not resume her workouts until the school year ends.
After her worldwide debut at the Games last winter, the press hailed her as one of America’s great hopes for the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
And the public wanted more. “It was just overwhelming,” Tiffany said. Producers wanted her to star in their movies. Companies wanted her to promote their products. Charities wanted her to be their spokesperson. Agents wanted to represent her. Fans sent letters to her at school and at Ice Capades Chalet, the Costa Mesa rink where she trains. Others were addressed simply: “Tiffany Chin, Toluca Lake.”
“The public appraisal stopped her from trying to improve. She thought she was good enough already,” Marjorie Chin said. “I see the child slipping away, I see her on her way to becoming a little star, which is the opposite of what you want in an athlete.”
Skated Poorly at Competition
She said the attention has made it impossible for her daughter to maintain the concentration necessary to be a world champion. In part, she blamed it for Tiffany’s faulty performance at the world championships last February in Tokyo. She placed third, her performances marred by fumbles on standard moves. Her first dose of media criticism hit her hard, her mother said. “She thought she was it. She thought everyone would love her no matter what she did.”
To be prepared for the day the competition ends, Marjorie Chin said, her daughter needs a solid education. “Education must come first. So many stars can’t handle their lives once the glory is over. They are not happy human beings.”
Tiffany will have one free week between the end of the school year and the start of summer school. “It was a very tired and dragged-out year for all of us,” her mother said. “There was no time for soul searching.”