Sargent-Thomas, Witherby win dance Champions stumble to third-place finish

January 11, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Less than a month after undergoing emergency surgery, April Sargent-Thomas danced her way to the Olympic Winter Games.

Sargent-Thomas, of Odgensburg, N.Y., and her partner Russ Witherby, of Cincinnati, won the free dance program last night and claimed their first national title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Rachel Mayer of Wellesley, Mass., and Peter Breen, of Brockton, Mass., finished second in the free dance to claim the final U.S spot for next month's Winter Games in Alberville,France.

Reigning champions Elizabeth Punsalan, of Sheffield Lake, Ohio, and Jerod Swallow, of Northville, Mich., stumbled in an innovative program and finished fourth in the free dance and third overall.

But it was Sargent-Thomas who provided the drama by simply appearing at this week's championship,She had surgery last month to remove a burst ovarian cyst,Dec 21,and was back training one week later. Despite skating in pain, she managed to smile and dance her way through the three portions of the competition.

When the scores were posted Sargent thrust a fist in the air and smiled.

" It was an incredible feeling," she said." All of the years of skating and we finally won."

Mayer and Breen arrived two years early.They had their sites set on the 1994 Olympics.Instead,they're headed for Albertville.

"I can't believe we made it," Breen said " Everything is happening so quickly."

Punsalan and Swallow provided the night's most avant-garde exhibition, dancing to winter sports scenes. Dressed in matching white outfits, with green, blue and orange trim and five gold olympic rings on their chest they acted as skiers and speed-skaters. But when they took the form of a luge,Swallow dropped Punsalan, and their gold-medal hopes crashed.

"I was the sled, Liz was the passenger," Swallow said. "Watch the luge people in a month.They'll be falling all over the place."

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