With wealth of talent, Urmanov strikes gold LILLEHAMMER '94

February 20, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- He trains two hours a day in a country where figure skating rinks have been turned into food warehouses.

His mother was laid off from a missile factory and works a shift as cook in a cafe.

And the $30 a month in training stipends he receives from his sports federation hardly can pay for his skates, much less the outlandish costumes he wears.

Meet Alexei Urmanov, the men's figure skating gold medalist at the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Last night, the unheralded, poverty-stricken man from St. Petersburg, Russia, beat the millionaires on ice to claim the gold.

In what was billed as the greatest men's competition in history, some jumped and some emoted, but only Urmanov put together a package built on athleticism and style.

He gave the judges eight triple jumps and he gave them ballet on ice. And Urmanov was rewarded with six first-place ballots in the free skate, worth 66.7 percent of the overall score.

Did he believe he could win?

"I didn't think so," he said. "I didn't think about the gold because the pro skaters here were so strong."

Finishing second was Canada's Elvis Stojko, whose Kung Fu jabs and kicks won over the crowd but turned off the judging panel that crushed him on artistic points.

Philippe Candeloro of France fell on his final triple axel with 15 seconds left in his program, and was third.

And what about the Americans?

Brian Boitano, the 1988 gold medalist, moved two places from the short program to sixth.

"I knew when I decided to reinstate I could win again," he said. "I knew I could keep up with everybody else. But I knew that maybe I didn't have the hunger."

Scott Davis, with a medal on the line, fell twice and sank from fourth to eighth overall.

"Nobody likes to skate poorly," Davis said. "You think of the Olympics and having the performance of your life. It didn't happen."

For the second straight Olympics, perfection was missing in the men's free-skating competition.

But this show was strange as skating kicked out the old and brought in the new.

Old-timers such as 1992 gold medalist Viktor Petrenko of Ukraine (fourth) and world champion Kurt Browning of Canada (fifth) provided excellent performances but were too far back after the technical program to challenge for medals.

That left the stage to the young stars.

There was Candeloro, a showman who just might have won the gold,but for the final fall.

"Maybe the judges don't like this style," he said.

There was Stojko, who skated with composure after missing his first triple axel. He readjusted his show, ditching a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination to reinsert the axel.

The switch paid off on the technical side, where Stojko received seven marks out of nine of 5.9. But his artistic marks were from 5.5 to 5.8.

"The depth of talent in skating was the deepest I've ever seen," Stojko said. "I have to be happy with the silver."

His shirts are filled with ruffles, but Urmanov is skating's new man of steel. Two years after breaking his right ankle on a triple axel attempt, the 20-year-old got his Olympic gold.

Urmanov gave a classical show while skating to the best of Rossini.

"I didn't think about the gold medal," he said. "I did think about my skating."

He had one near-disaster, tumbling out of a triple flip and nearly crashing into the --er boards. But he righted himself and continued.

"When I made a mistake on a triple flip, it was not a tragedy," he said. "It was just a mistake."

On this night, Urmanov could be philosophical.

He traveled the hardest road of all to the Olympics. With the old Soviet sports system torn apart, he has been forced to become a free agent in a country without much cash.

He lives in a two-room flat in St. Petersburg with his mother and grandparents. He scrambles for training time at the city's one functioning ice rink. And he somehow gets some of the city's top designers to make his costumes.

But last night, Urmanov found himself atop a podium, a gold medal around his neck, a future on the American show circuit secured.

Will his life change? "Yes, for sure" he said. "I don't know how. We'll see."

RARE SHUTOUT

When Brian Boitano and Scott Davis finished out of the money yesterday, it was the first time since 1976 that the U.S. team failed to have a medal winner in men's figure skating. A look at U.S. medal winners in the event:

Year .. .. .. .. ..Skater .. .. .. .. ..Medal

1992 .. .. .. .. Paul Wylie .. .. .. ..silver

1988 .. .. .. ..Brian Boitano .. .. .. ..gold

1984 .. .. .. ..Scott Hamilton .. .. .. .gold

1980 .. .. .. .Charles Tickner .. .. ..bronze

1976 .. .. .. .. ..None

1972 .. .. .. .. ..None

1968 .. .. .. .. .Tim Wood .. .. .. ...silver

1964 .. .. .. ...Scott Allen .. .. .. .bronze

1960 .. .. .. ..David Jenkins .. .. .. ..gold

1956 .. .. .. ..Hayes Jenkins .. .. .. ..gold

.. .. .. .. .. Ronald Robertson .. .. .silver

.. .. .. .. .. ..David Jenkins .. .. ..bronze

1952 .. .. .. ...Dick Button .. .. .. ...gold

.. .. .. .. .. ..James Grogan .. .. ...bronze

1948 .. .. .. .. .Dick Button .. .. .. ..gold

Note: There were no U.S. medal winners before 1948.

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