Yamaguchi dazzles for first U.S. title Kerrigan, Harding complete Olympic trio

January 12, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Call them Murderers' Row on skates.

Kristi Yamaguchi, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding constitute the most powerful spinning and jumping lineup in the history of ladies figure skating.

They bring artistry and athletic charisma to a sport built on song and dance.

Last night, they might not have been perfect, but they dominated the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Yamaguchi, 20, of Fremont, Calif., won her first U.S. title by landing seven triple jumps and earning one perfect score of 6.0 for artistic elements.

Kerrigan, 22, of Stoneham, Mass., skated with a clean and conservative elegance to finish second.

Harding, the 21-year-old defending champion from Portland, Ore., was burdened by a foot injury and finished third.

But the order probably wasn't important.

This was an intramural exhibition. The main event comes at next month's Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

There, the American trio will try to fend off a challenge from Japan's Midori Ito and duplicate a World Championship medal sweep. Last year in Munich, Germany, Yamaguchi, Harding and Kerrigan went 1-2-3.

The Americans displayed their unique styles in the free skate, worth 67 percent of the overall score.

Yamaguchi, a three-time U.S. runner-up, played the role of a temptress while performing to Malaguena. Dressed in a raspberry outfit, she skipped across the ice, stringing together triples as if they were pearls. Even the loss of her headband couldn't stop her.

"This is probably my best performance, the best I've ever skated," Yamaguchi said. "I had just one little bobble on a combination jump, but that's all.

"I'm thrilled," she said. "I just wanted to qualify [for the Olympics]."

Harding, a 98-pound power pack, was short-circuited by a strained tendon in her right foot that she sustained during a morning warm-up Friday. Still, she gave a gritty performance, matching her hardscrabble background.

"Of course, the injury upset my train of thought," she said. "I'm just pleased I'm on the team. I don't care if I'm first, second or third. I made it to the Olympics."

Harding fell on her signature jump, the 3 1/2 -revolution Axel. But she got up and limped her way through three triples and then limped off the ice.

"I was praying to God that I would make the team," Harding said.

Did Harding contemplate withdrawing before the free skate?

"Nope," she said. "There were some who said that if the foot hurts too bad, I could pull out. I just laughed."

Kerrigan is a throwback in a sport that is going the way of gymnastics. Others might have more difficult jumps in their arsenals, but few skaters are as elegant or dazzling as Kerrigan.

"I'm not surprised to finish second," Kerrigan said.

Dressed in white, Kerrigan skated with patience and precision, landing four triple jumps.

"When I was a kid, I used to be a spaz, just skating around the ice," she said. "I never had any style."

One level below the top American trio, a different kind of competition took place, as the country's youngest performers began to position themselves for the 1994 Olympics.

The two fast-rising stars are 14-year-olds Lisa Ervin and Nicole Bobek.

Ervin, the reigning world junior silver medalist from Cleveland, skated in the last group and went toe-to-toe with the Olympians to finish fourth.

Bobek of Skokie, Ill., was skating at less than full strength because she still is recovering from an appendectomy. But she created a light, bouncy look that won support from the crowd and the judges, who placed her seventh.

Next month, the kids will stay home. In Albertville, Murderers' Row will take on the world.

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