Kwan puts jump into gold routine Singles sweep is first for U.S. since 1986

March 25, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

EDMONTON, Alberta - The coach had found a quiet place in the Edmonton Coliseum, a cubbyhole reserved for the flower girls who retrieve bouquets tossed onto the ice. The scores for Lu Chen of China, the defending world figure-skating champion, were announced and the results were forbidding. Chen had received two perfect marks of 6 for artistry.

Frank Carroll turned to Michelle Kwan, whom he coaches, and told the 15-year-old skater that the world title was still within reach Saturday night. Apart from the 6s, Chen had received four 5.8s for artistry. The judges had left room for Kwan. If she was nearly perfect, she would win.

"You've got to believe in yourself that you can do it," Carroll told Kwan. "You are one of the best skaters in the world."

Calm and poised, Kwan landed seven triple jumps, including a daring, improvised triple toe at the end of her program. She also displayed an elegance that surpassed even Chen's balletic grace, receiving two perfect 6s of her own for artistry, along with seven 5.9s.

Six of the nine judges voted Kwan first, making her the third youngest women's champion in history. Sonja Henie won the world championship in 1927 at age 14, and Oksana Baiul, the 1993 gold medalist, was 15 but a few months younger than Kwan.

"I'm a world champion, I can't believe it," said Kwan, of Torrence, Calif., who finished fourth a year ago. "Since I was little, I'd say, 'Wouldn't that be weird if I'd say I was world champion?' It has not really gone to my brain yet."

Her riveting victory concluded a world championship that provided two of the most alluring men's and women's competitions at the international level. The victory by Todd Eldredge, of Chatham, Mass., in the men's competition gave the United States its first singles sweep since Brian Boitano and Debi Thomas won the worlds in 1986 in Geneva. The four medals won by the Americans were the most since the 1991 world team claimed five.

The American depth here was evidenced by two medals in the men's competition gold for Eldredge, bronze for Rudy Galindo and a 10th-place finish by Dan Hollander. All three American pairs Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen and Shelby Lyons and Brian Wells also finished in the top 10, with Meno and Sand taking a bronze for the second straight year.

These worlds underscored that Olympic-style skating is a sport, not an ice show. Jumping counts, and it counts for plenty. Two favorites, Elvis Stojko of Canada and Midori Ito of Japan, lost any chance for medals when they fell on the triple axel in their short programs.

The winners, Eldredge and Kwan, both prevailed largely because they were the best jumpers under pressure. Eldredge delivered two triple-triple jumps in combination to one for Ilia Kulik of Russia, and Kwan threw in a seventh triple jump at the end of her program, which gave her one more triple than Chen.

"It says that athleticism has been continuing to grow," said Morry Stillwell, president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. "Whether we like it or not, it is a jumping sport. It's amazing to me the reserve these skaters have in the last 30 seconds. It's like running a four-minute mile flat-out and still looking pretty."

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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