No woman, no cry
Michelle Kwan's former coach, Frank Carroll, says he isn't bitter
By E.M. Swift
Frank Carroll, who coached Michelle Kwan for 10 years before being unceremoniously dumped by the gold medal favorite last fall, isn't sure where he'll be when the women's figure skating competition begins next Tuesday. If Tim Goebel of the U.S., whom the 63-year-old Carroll coaches, finishes in the top four of the men's competition (which starts today at 5:15 p.m.), qualifying for the closing exhibition, Carroll will be right here in Salt Lake. If Goebel falters, Carroll will go home to Palm Springs, Calif., and begin to work on his taxes.
Carroll isn't even sure he'll watch as Kwan resumes her quest for the gold medal that eluded her in Nagano -- the gold medal that eluded them both. Carroll, who has been at every Winter Olympics save one since 1972, has never coached an Olympic champion.
"Initially I said I wouldn't watch, because I didn't want people coming up and asking my opinion," he said yesterday after Goebel's practice. "Now, if I'm here, I think I'd probably go. I'd hope to enjoy the event. I've felt emotionally strong so far through this, but you're never exactly the same."
The hurt of his sudden dismissal has dissipated with time. He'd been through worse. In 1980 his prize pupil, Linda Fratianne, a two-time world champion, was robbed of the gold medal in Lake Placid because of cold war judging politics and an arcane scoring system that overvalued compulsory school figures. The forgettable East German Anett Pöetzch stood atop the podium that year. "That was the one that almost made me quit skating," Carroll says. The ISU changed the scoring system shortly thereafter.
Carroll has taken Danish, Japanese and Mexican skaters to the Games, missing the big show only in 1984. Two of his former pupils, Mark Cockerell and Tiffany Chin, were in Sarajevo that year, having left him for other coaches after he'd had disagreements with their parents. Asked if he found himself rooting against them, Carroll says, "I never root against anyone. It would be bad karma. I always felt their abilities reflected on me, so why would I want them to fail? I hope to God Michelle does win the gold. We're still friendly. It's hard for people to understand that. I've moved on. Michelle's moved on. After 10 years, maybe it was time for a change."
Kwan and Carroll went to two Olympics together: In 1994, when the 13-year-old Kwan was the alternate awaiting the resolution of Tonya Harding's lawsuit, and in 1998, when she was upset by Tara Lipinski. "Michelle was wonderful there but a little tentative," Carroll says. "Tara went out and skated her brains out. I was disappointed but not angry."
Carroll and Kwan talked about what they would do differently this time, about being more aggressive, embracing the spirit of going for the gold. About interacting more with other athletes, being less reclusive, enjoying the journey that is the Olympics. Kwan, coached by her father now, has said she'll do all those things. Carroll now suggests those things to Goebel.
Though Carroll and Kwan have gone their own ways, they are part of each other's Olympics. Forever linked, they now travel different roads. Carroll insists he won't be envious if Kwan wins while he watches from afar. "I think most people would consider me the coach most associated with her success," he says. "Don't make me sound like an angry old man. I really do think Michelle Kwan is the greatest skater in the world."