While two 16-year-old tennis players, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, captivated all England during the last fortnight, among those dominating attention on the Tour of World Figure Skating Champions were Michelle Kwan, who at 16 is already a former world champion, and current world champion Tara Lipinski, who last month turned 15.
Nicole Bobek sighed and recalled when she was younger.
“It doesn’t seem like that long ago,” said Bobek, who, six weeks shy of her 20th birthday, will be skating on tour stops at the Pond on Friday night, the Long Beach Arena on Saturday and the Sports Arena on Sunday.
Even before she was a teenager, Bobek was touted as another Peggy Fleming or Dorothy Hamill. He might not know figure skating, but George Steinbrenner knows a winner when he sees one and sponsored her.
A few years and a few coaches later, Bobek appeared on the verge of fulfilling her promise at 17 by winning the U.S. championship. But one year later, in 1996, she fell into the money trap, couldn’t say no to commercial opportunities and was passed by a new generation of ice girls.
She could have retired from serious competition. Instead, she rededicated herself to it by joining her original coach, the legendary Carlo Fassi, at Lake Arrowhead’s Ice Castle International Training Center.
“I wanted to let everybody know, ‘Hey, I’m still here; don’t forget about me,’ ” she said.
She did by that with a third-place finish in the national championships and had begun to reestablish her international reputation when Fassi died of a heart attack during the world championships last March.
Bobek, Fleming, Hamill, Robin Cousins, Jill Trenary and Paul Wylie are among former Fassi students committed to a tribute to him Aug. 16 at Lake Arrowhead.
Bobek said she can think of an even greater tribute. If she continues to grow as a performer and competitor at Lake Arrowhead under the coaching of Fassi’s widow Christa and Irina Rodnina, she believes she can earn a berth in the 1998 Winter Olympics and contend for a medal.
“I’d better,” Bobek said. “I know Carlo’s watching.”
Sunday provided a perfect example of what Dick Enberg was talking about after golf’s U.S. Open, when he said, “You just feel this flush of excitement, that golf is at an all-time high while tennis plummets in interest.” . . .
Tiger Woods’ surge on the back nine to win a routine tournament, with the gallery ignoring the ropes to follow him down the 18th fairway, was more compelling than Pete Sampras’ routine victory at Wimbledon. . . .
Sampras is too efficient. Of 118 service games during the tournament, he won 116. . . .
A statistic I would have been even less likely to believe a couple of weeks ago: The Dodgers have won seven of their last eight. . . .
In appreciation of Tom Candiotti’s pitching Sunday, Bill Russell draped his arm around him in the dugout. . . .
That was much different from the scene Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, when Candiotti was angry about Russell’s quick hook in a game against Texas. . . .
Wise enough not to blow in front of the television cameras, unlike a couple of his teammates this season, Candiotti waited a couple of nights to confront Russell and discuss their differences. . . .
It’s interesting how communication in the clubhouse has improved with a few well-placed hits and good pitching. . . .
I don’t think it’s a coincidence they’ve started putting it together since Mike Piazza delivered his state of the Dodgers address. . . .
Chemistry is important. . . .
That’s the reason one of Dave Taylor’s first moves as the Kings’ general manager was to sign veteran defenseman and proven leader Garry Galley as a free agent. . . .
The Lakers, meantime, lost two players, Byron Scott and Travis Knight, who added character to their team. . . .
Jerome Kersey would be a loss for the same reason. . . .
This Tour de France reminds me of 1986, when Bernard Hinault reneged on his promise to assist teammate Greg Lemond in return for past services. Lemond won anyway. . . .
Denmark’s defending champion, Bjarne Riis, and Germany’s Jan Ullrich, second last year, started as Telekom teammates Saturday, but I’m guessing they’ll be bitter rivals by the time they reach Paris on July 27.
While wondering if Sampras is the best player ever, I was thinking: probably, but there will be no question if he ever wins a French Open, the U.S. Postal Service needs more than a one-cent increase on stamps for its team to contend in the Tour de France.