Classic styles may be in vogue at U.S. Championships


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Figure skating is undergoing a subtle shift -- a change that could bring aesthetic satisfaction to traditionalists.

As the U.S. Figure Skating Championships begin in San Jose, Calif., look for a return to the artistry that characterized the sport for so long. Judges will still expect to see plenty of difficult triple jumps, but skaters this year will be expected to go beyond the pure athleticism of the recent past.

"This year they'll be looking for the all-around skater," said Carol Heiss Jenkins, five-time women's world champion (1956-60) and a coach for the past 16 years.

The championships are being held through Sunday at the San Jose Arena with more than 300 skaters competing in 19 events. The winners in the premier events will advance to the World Championships on March 17-24 in Edmonton, Alberta, with the United States sending three men, three women, three pairs and jTC two dance couples.

"The United States without a doubt has the greatest depth of skaters," said John Nicks, who has coached 36 champions in this country and in Europe. "It's incredible, and at the nationals is where you see it, from the 33-year-olds to the 12-year-olds."

Nicks also took note of the move back to artistry.

"I've got the strong message they want a little more emphasis on the second mark -- the musicality, the artistry," Nicks said, referring to the judges' scores for presentation, which follow the scores for required elements, or technical merit.

"They want to see the in-between stuff, the connecting stuff," added Heiss Jenkins. "They want to see nice spins and moves between the jumps and how you relate to the music."

Brian Boitano, men's world champion in 1986 and '88, is skeptical.

"I don't think there is going to be any change," said Boitano, who will be making his debut as a television commentator on ABC's coverage of the men's competition. "They've said that for many, many years and it's never been shown by the actual markings."

The women's competition should be decided between defending champion Nicole Bobek and silver medalist Michelle Kwan.

Defending national champion Todd Eldredge is considered the men's favorite. Eldredge, who also won the title in 1990 and '91, will be challenged by Scott Davis, the American gold medalist in 1993 and '94.

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