When 1990 world bronze medalist Holly Cook departed Salt Lake City on Saturday for this week's '91 national figure skating championships in Minneapolis, it was with a sense that she could be more prepared. She's still undecided about her career after 10 months of inner turmoil.

There's no one her age or skill level to train with in Utah any more, and the Bountiful native can't find local ice time that isn't crowded with small fry who are often in the way as she tries to skate her high-speed international-caliber programs.Add to that the demise of school figures, one of her strengths, as a part of the overall championship picture, and the feeling that it would be hard for her to top last year's finishes, and you have a Cook who's wavered for months.

"It's been a really hard year," she observes.

At times, she told her mother, Margie, that she was going to quit, but then she'd find a reason to go on.

With two completely new routines, she bypassed July's Goodwill Games but won Skate Eletric in London Oct. 4. Going into late-October's Skate Canada, Cook told Margie she would retire after the competition. She wasn't landing her triple loop. But at Skate Canada, the jump came back in practices, even though she missed it in the competition, so she changed her mind and persevered.

When the Pacific Coast Sectionals were held in Bountiful in early January, Cook's ice practice time dwindled to maybe an hour a day - at the Cottonwood facility. She didn't have to skate in the sectional because she was already qualified for nationals, but she couldn't practice because of it, either. She teetered again but recovered.

She moved to Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, to train at the Broadmoor arena.

"It finally came down to a last-minute thing," she says. "If I feel like going, then go. I decided I had nothing to lose, to go ahead and work hard for the last two weeks," she says.

"It was just getting a little frustrating," Cook said. "I needed a change in atmosphere and a lot of motivation." She found both there with skaters her own age and level. Should she decide after nationals to continue, she's likely to train in Colorado Springs - a big financial burden.

She was in Colorado until Friday night, returned to Utah for one more practice at Cottonwood Saturday morning and was on a plane for Minneapolis by noon.

In Minneapolis, Kristi Yamaguchi is the undisputed favorite, since '90 champion Jill Trenary is out with an ankle injury. Yamaguchi defeated world champion Midori Ito of Japan in the Oct. 17-21 Skate America.

From there on, though, it's a wide-open field, and Cook could be considered next-best to Yamaguchi on the basis of last year's finishes. Others in the hunt are Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, Jeri Campbell and Tonia Kwiatkowski.

"The top six from last year are still battling it out," says Cook's coach, Kris Sherard, who wasn't able to move to Colorado Springs with Cook.

"I just want to skate well," says Cook, not wanting to worry about placement. "You can't think about that, just about what you can do."

Sherard and Margie Cook both say Holly's possibilities hinge on her emotional outlook this week. "The capabilities are still there," says Sherard. "It only deteriorates when she's doubting herself. When she's feeling good, she's looked good."

"When she smiles," says Margie, "she usually does well - I haven't seen her smile in six months." But, as she says that, Margie looks over at Holly, who is joking with other skaters while she laces up for her last home practice. She's smiling a lot. A good sign.

Cook will skate in the senior ladies' original program Thursday and freestyle Saturday.

Also in Minneapolis this week are Salt Lake City's Eddie Gornik, in novice men's freestyle and figures, and Jennifer Downing in figures. Both also train with Sherard.

Downing, a Skyline High student, moved to Utah with her family in the past year from Colorado Springs.

Gornik, a Cottonwood Heights resident who lives around the corner from that rink, started training in Bountiful recently. He's in his first season as a novice. Sherard changed his routines completely to more fit his outgoing personality, and he's already met his goal of qualifying for nationals. He is ahead of where Farmington's Clay Sniteman was at this stage of his career as far as jumps, she says. He may do a triple jump this week.