MUNICH, Germany -- The pairs competition of the world figure skating championships concluded in stunning fashion last night, not only for the brilliance of the winners, Natalya Mishkuteniok and Artur Dmitriev of the Soviet Union, but also for the wholly unexpected third-place finish by an American couple, Natasha Kuchiki and Todd Sand.
In between was the Canadian pair of Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, who had led the field of 19 after the original program Tuesday.
For the United States, it was the third time in three years all three teams placed in the top 10. Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval were ninth, followed by Jenni Meno and Scott Wendland in 10th.
It was not as if Mishkuteniok and Dmitriev had sneaked up on anyone, giving the Soviet Union the pairs championship for the seventh consecutive year and the 24th time in 27 years. They had finished third in the 1990 world championships.
But never had they performed so exquisitely as they skated a metaphorical dream sequence in which she was a cloud and he was a suitor searching the skies for his love. The program ended with a seamless chain of spirals and spins, the pair like a blithe spirit.
"They have classic lines, classic beauty and classic expressiveness," said their coach, Tamara Moskvina, whose previous world champions were Yelena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev, the winners in 1983, 1985 and 1988. "They did a marvelous job."
"In singles, I trained for all five of the triple jumps and I did them very high," he said.
By winning the bronze medal, Kuchiki and Sand, together just 18 months, improved eight positions. A year ago, when the U.S. Figure Skating Association needed special permission for Kuchiki to compete, they were 11th. She was just five months beyond her 13th birthday at the time, and the rules provided all skaters had to be 13 by July 1 of the previous year.
Sand was 26.
"It's personally very gratifying to me," said John A.W. Nicks, their coach, "because all the experts said this partnership would not be very successful."
Earlier in the day, Viktor Petrenko of the Soviet Union, the runner-up last year to Kurt Browning of Canada, led a field of 34 men after the original program, the shorter of two parts of the competition, which counts for one-third of the overall score.
Browning placed second and Petr Barna of Czechoslovakia was third, followed by two Americans, Christopher Bowman and two-time U.S. champion Todd Eldredge.
Browning, using a difficult triple axel-triple toe loop combination for the first time, skated a solid but not spectacular program.
Barna, the sixth-place finisher last year and last of 34 skaters yesterday, was sound in all respects, although not so forceful in his jumps as Petrenko and Browning.
The Americans, Bowman and Eldredge, both skated impressively, with Bowman's program unusual for the absence of even a single mug before a judge or camera. He was third last year; Eldredge, fifth.
Paul Wylie, the third of the Americans and the first to skate, an unenviable position, botched his combination jump early in his program and nearly everything that followed to finish in 20th, the last position permitted into the free-skate phase of competition tonight.