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Chen Lu (1976—)

Chen Lu (1976—)

Chinese figure skater. Last name: Chen; first name: Lu; (nickname) Lulu. Born in Changchun, Jilin Province, northeast China, on November 24, 1976; daughter of a hockey skater and a ping-pong player; raised in Jilin Province.

Placed 3rd at the World Championships (1993), 1st (1995), 2nd (1996), and 25th (1997); won a bronze medal at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer (1994); finished 1st at the Karl Schafer Memorial figure-skating championship in Vienna, Austria (1997); won a bronze medal in Nagano (1998).

Lovely Lu Chen, China's first figure-skating champion, was born in northeast China in 1977; her father, a former member of China's national hockey team, taught her to skate on a patch of ice in her backyard. Her mother was a competitive ping-pong player. But her nation was isolated from the world of figure skating; there were no indoor rinks, no organized training; the sport was virtually unknown. Her coach Li Mingzhu learned technique by studying videos.

In her first Olympics at Albertville, Lu Chen placed a surprising 6th. Then came Lillehammer in 1994 and the Kerrigan-Harding circus. While Ukraine's Oksana Baiul took gold and Nancy Kerrigan took silver, Lu Chen beat out France's Surya Bonaly for the bronze, becoming the first female figure skater to compete in the Olympic Games for China. "She's always serene and in control," said Peggy Fleming . "She's effortless and haunting. She literally takes your breath away."

Following their skater's success at Lillehammer, the Chinese sent her to train in California; Lu Chen took to her new home with ease and became a beloved and serious contender in international figure skating, winning the World Championship in 1995, taking silver medals in both Skate America and the Trophee de France that same year. But just as she was making a life for herself in America, the Chinese ordered her to return home to Beijing in the fall of 1996, then restricted her travel. Instantly, Lu Chen all but disappeared from the skating circuit. The following season was abysmal: she left her long time coach, appeared at only two international tournaments, battled the Chinese Figure Skating Federation, and, amazingly, came in an appalling 25th at the 1997 World Championships that March in Lausanne, Switzerland, not even qualifying for the finals. Lu Chen was not only suffering from injuries but seemingly a broken spirit. She looked uncomfortable when reporters asked what was going on, and would not answer questions about her Chinese handlers. "China is my country," she would answer, diffidently. "I love my country." In 1998, Lu Chen seemed to regain her sense of purpose and returned to the Olympics at Nagano. Though she struggled in the warmups, she came in fourth in the compulsories, then took the bronze medal once more with an elegant performance. (Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan of the U.S. placed 1st and 2nd.) Lu Chen turned professional following the 1998 Olympic games; she was 21.

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