Rest of ladies field is interesting, too LILLEHAMMER '94

February 23, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- And now for the rest of the field.

There is a teen-ager from Ukraine who rules the world, a leaper from France who is the toast of Europe and a young woman from China who is a picture of skating grace.

Americans Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan are not the only women who could come away with the figure skating gold at the Winter Olympics.

Remember the names Oksana Baiul of Ukraine, Surya Bonaly of France and Chen Lu of China during tonight's two-minute technical program. They each enter the competition with top-flight credentials and top-flight triples.

Baiul, 16, is the reigning world champion, a child-woman whose skating has been described as heavenly.

But her personal story has been hellish: she never knew her father, when she was 13 her mother died of ovarian cancer, her first coach abandoned her to go to the west.

Finally, she found a home and a coach. She moved from Dnepropetrovsk to Odessa to train with Galina Zmievskaya, who coached 1992 Olympic men's champion Viktor Petrenko.

And last year, Baiul was crowned a world champion, the youngest since Sonja Henie.

But she has encountered difficulties in this year after winning gold. She has yet to land a combination triple jump in competition, and her performances have been sluggish.

"I know I wouldn't have wanted to defend a title when I was 16," said 1984 Olympic men's champion Scott Hamilton.

Bonaly also brings a compelling story to the Games. She was adopted by parents in France and trained to be a gymnast, but converted to skating at age 12. She has won four straight European crowns.

But Olympic fame has eluded Bonaly, who is bidding to become the second black athlete to win a Winter Games medal. American figure skater Debi Thomas was the first, claiming the bronze in 1988.

Chen is the first international skating star produced by China. She was third in the world the past two years, and sixth at the 1992 Winter Olympics. But after growing an inch and adding a few pounds, she has had difficulty landing her signature triples.

Still, she should be among the contenders.

Hamilton said Kerrigan, Baiul, Bonaly and Chen are the top four favorites.

"Baiul amazes me just the fact that at 16 she is so incredibly mature and sophisticated," he said.

"Bonaly has the reputation that her artistry isn't anywhere near her technical ability," he said. "But that's not true. She is strong enough and athletic enough that she can save a bad jump. But she has the artistry, now."

And what of Kerrigan?

"She is tough," he said.

Hamilton said two other skaters, Joisee Chouinard of Canada and Yuka Sato of Japan, also could make a run at medals.

"Who knows, there could be another dark horse in the field," he said.

Almost lost in the discussion in the women's event is Germany's Katarina Witt, the two-time Olympic champion who once was the definition of skating style.

But Witt, a Carmen on skates in 1988, no longer has the technical expertise to battle the younger rivals.

"This is something I had to do," she said. "It feels good not to be the one that has the pressure on to win the gold. But once you're an athlete, you always want to be competitive."

This has been an Olympic skating event filled with surprises.

The pros have more than met their match against the amateurs in the first open Olympic contest in history.

Brian Boitano was disappointing in the men's competition. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were placed third in the dance. Only Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov were able to beat all rivals in the pairs.

"Welcome to reinstatement," Hamilton said. "You're mixing eras and there is no sense to it. The competition is so overwhelming, I love it."

Tonight, they will begin dividing the contenders from the pretenders in the women's competition.

One mistake, and the whole medal chase could be changed.

"There are a lot of women who could win this," Hamilton said. "One slip and you're toast."

TECHNICAL PROGRAM

The women's technical program, worth one-third of the total score, will be skated today. Here are the requirements:

* A double axel* Any other double jump* Two double jumps or a double and a triple jump in combination

* A flying spin

* A layback or sideways leaning spin

* A spin combination with only one foot change and at least two position changes

* One spiral step sequence and one step sequence of a different nature (straight, circular, serpentine)

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