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Original Issue

Inside Olympic Sports

At the nationals, runner-up Sasha Cohen, 15, augured a dazzling
future for U.S. skating

In an election year there's nothing like being the incumbent.
That was the message delivered by the judges at the U.S. figure
skating championships in Cleveland last weekend as both Michael
Weiss and Michelle Kwan overpromised and underdelivered but
repeated as champs. The buzz in Gund Arena, however, was
generated by a couple of young turks--Timothy Goebel, 19, and
Sasha Cohen, 15--who each finished second and served notice that
the order will soon change if the old dogs don't learn some new

For the 23-year-old Weiss, who won his second national title,
that means delivering the quadruple toe loop, the
four-revolution jump he landed during his qualifying round at
worlds last year. Having recovered from a stress fracture in his
left ankle that had hampered him all fall, Weiss planned to
include the quad in his freestyle program in Cleveland, but at
the moment of truth he balked and did a simple triple toe loop.
Goebel, skating earlier in front of hometown fans, had already
become the first U.S. skater to land a quad at the nationals--in
fact, three of them: two Salchows and a toe loop, making them
look so easy that his coach, Carol Heiss Jenkins, spoke of
Goebel's someday doing a "quint." Unfortunately, everything else
in Goebel's program looked hard. And slow. And about as
interesting as a Steve Forbes fund-raiser. Even so, three of the
nine judges rated Goebel ahead of Weiss, who will have no shot
at a medal at next month's world championships in Nice, France,
without landing the quad. Someone should remind Weiss, a father
of two from Fairfax, Va., that the Olympic motto does not
include safer.

The 19-year-old Kwan, who's a freshman at UCLA, should be
reminded of that, too. This was her eighth appearance at the
nationals as a senior lady, and, to be blunt, she's showing some
wear. She fell on relatively simple triple jumps in both her
short program, in which she finished third, and her freestyle,
but she still won her third straight title and fourth overall,
thanks to her reputation as a peerless stylist. Never mind that
Kwan's stylishness was largely absent last weekend. The judges
have the memory of an elephant and marked her as if it were
present and accounted for. "I wasn't in character as much as I
usually am, which doesn't mean I didn't feel the music," Kwan
said afterward, referring to the sound track from the film The
Red Violin. "This music isn't very cheery either, so it suited
my mood."

Indeed Kwan, who loves college, seemed as if she would rather
have been taking, say, a medieval history exam. She says
otherwise, but all the joy seems to have been wrung out of
Kwan's skating, particularly in contrast to the effervescent
performance of her younger rival. Cohen, a high school sophomore
from Laguna Niguel, Calif., looks about 12 but moves her 4'9",
79-pound body about the ice as if she were a prima ballerina:
assured, composed, impossibly flexible and elegant. Yes, at 15,
elegant. Her hands, her spins, her spirals, her posture, her
positions in the air are flawless, often breathtaking. "We call
her the china doll, but don't be fooled," her coach, John Nicks,
said after Cohen won the short program. "I've seen her take many
hard falls, but I've never, ever seen her cry."

Competing as a senior for the first time, Cohen proved her
mettle in Saturday's freestyle program, when, unfazed by the
pressure of leading, she landed five triple jumps and mesmerized
the 15,036 spectators. Near the end she made her one error,
falling on a triple toe loop, a mistake that gave the judges the
excuse they needed to put Kwan first.

The judges at next month's worlds will feel no such loyalty to
Kwan. (Because of her age and lack of international
qualification, Cohen will have to place in the top three at the
junior worlds in Oberstdorf, Germany, next month to claim her
spot in Nice.) If Kwan wants to regain the championship she lost
to Russia's Maria Butyrskaya last year, she has to go back to
full-attack mode. That means landing a triple-triple
combination, which Kwan never attempted in Cleveland but which
internationally is the technical standard by which the top women
skaters are judged.

Do Weiss and Kwan still have the fire in their bellies to raise
the bar technically, or is it time to unleash the kids?

U.S. Race Walking Trials

Curt Clausen could have named most of the hundred or so
spectators at the U.S. 50-km race walking Olympic trials last
Sunday in Sacramento. If anyone other than friends, relatives
and officials had planned to watch the country's finest walker
and 12 other competitors stride around the Cal State-Sacramento
campus, they were driven away by the rain, 48[degree]
temperature and 30 mph winds. It was a lonely promenade. "It's
only fun when thousands of people see you, at the Olympics,"
Clausen, 32, said after he won in 3:56:16.

Clausen couldn't help but think of one person he hopes will
chart his progress at the Sydney Games in September, if only
from a distance. In 1998 Clausen's detective work turned up the
identity of the woman who was 16 when she bore him and put him
up for adoption in Trenton, N.J. He has written to her but is
still waiting for a response. His adoptive mother, Virginia, who
raised him in Stevens Point, Wis., was in Sacramento, one of
eight dripping supporters in CURT CLAUSEN sweatshirts. "I look
at my adoptive mother and see unconditional love," Clausen says,
"but when people look at biological parents, they see
themselves. I miss that."

In 1995 Clausen tracked down Lisa Carter, a half sister born a
year before him to the same mother, and last fall he learned of
a younger half sister through the Internet. He hasn't located
his biological father. "I want to hear from my birth mother on
her terms," Clausen says. "I wouldn't compromise her
confidentiality, and I would tell her that I have a happy life.
I'd thank her for bringing me here." He could also tell her
about his remarkable, albeit unglamorous, ascent to a
fourth-place finish at the 1999 world championships, the highest
ever for a U.S. walker.

Clausen had cracked the U.S. top 10 at 20-km and 50-km in 1994,
the year that he separated from his wife (they divorced in '97),
that his adoptive father and a grandfather died and that he
sustained a concussion in an automobile accident that killed
another driver. In '96, with no sponsor, agent or coach, he
qualified as the lone U.S. walker in the 20-km at the Atlanta
Olympics, where he placed 50th out of 53 finishers, 11 minutes
behind gold medalist Jefferson Perez of Ecuador. In July '97
Clausen quit his job as an administrative analyst for the Solid
Waste Management Department of Chapel Hill, N.C., and moved to
the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, Calif. Clausen, who
has a master's in public administration from North Carolina
State, lived on a USOC stipend and what he made shelving books
part-time at the Chula Vista library.

In November 1998, Perez's coach, Enrique Pena, an '80 and '88
Olympian from Colombia, began coaching at Chula Vista. Within
days he had relaxed Clausen's arm carriage and increased his
training intensity. "He made me believe anything was possible,"
Clausen says. Last May, Clausen set the U.S. record for 50-km
(3:48:04), one of eight national marks he now holds.

Before Clausen the U.S. produced a procession of also-walkeds.
Since 1920 America's only Olympic medals have been Larry Young's
bronzes in '68 and '72. Clausen wouldn't mind a monsoon in
Sydney. "I relish bad conditions," he says. "Adversity takes
people out of their game plans. I just deal with it." --Brian


COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Dreams afoot for Clausen include an Olympic medal and a meeting with his birth mother.

Tale of 10 Cities

The deadline for bids to host the 2008 Summer Olympics was Feb.
1. Ten cities threw their hats into the, if you will, five
rings. Later this year the IOC will name five or six finalists,
and the winner will be declared in July 2001. Here's an early
handicapping of the field.


Beijing 3-1 A political fumble could still keep China
from getting the Games.

Toronto 4-1 A technically sound bid. Dick Pound, a
Canadian, could be IOC boss by then.

Paris 5-1 After Athens (2004 Summer) and Turin ('06
winter) another EuroGames unlikely.

Osaka 10-1 Tabbing another Asian city would mean
bumping IOC-fave Beijing back at least another
eight years.

Seville 30-1 World track and field championships in 1999
were as much as relatively small Spanish city
could handle.

Kuala Lumpur 50-1 1998 Commonwealth Games host could be surprise
finalist but, because of regions economy, no

Bangkok 75-1 The facilities are solidly in place; the
economy is anything but.

Havana 75-1 Verdict for decaying Cuban capital, which
could face political upheaval before 2008: not
close, and definitely no cigar.

Cairo 100-1 Organizational snafus at 1991 African Games
and specter of terrorism likely to entomb
Egyptian chances.

Istanbul 100-1 Two-time candidate won't persuade IOC to talk
Turkey just four years after unneighborly
neighbor Athens hosts.