From death spiral, pair skates from edge to top Ina, Dungjen take lead

'97 grief brought focus

January 08, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- As with most athletes, motivation for world-class figure skaters often comes from a variety of sources. Everyone assumed that the pairs team of Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen was pushed to its first national championship last year by second-place finishes the previous three years.

But that was only part of their motivation.

Two weeks before the competition in Nashville, Tenn., the wife of their longtime coach died from cancer. Peter Burrows admittedly doesn't even remember much about Ina and Dungjen giving the performance of their lives while helping mourn his wife Judy's death, but he believes it helped focus his skaters.

"Emotionally, it was a catalyst," said Burrows, a former British singles champion who once coached gold medalist Dorothy Hamill as well as the team of former two-time U.S. champions Calla Urbansky and Rocky Marvel. "Kyoko and Judy were very close. She was like a second mother to Kyoko. I think they did it for Judy as much as for themselves."

The only memories that Ina and Dungjen took into last night's short program in this year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships here at the CoreStates Center were from last year's nationals as well as the 1997 World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland, where they finished fourth. Since they recently went back to the short program they had scrapped for most of the past year, those memories served them well.

Skating after former three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand turned in a solid program, then waiting out a half-hour break while the ice was being smoothed, Ina and Dungjen skated cleanly, and often spectacularly, finishing their flawless routine by giving each other double high-fives at center ice. They received the highest scores of the night to move into first place and, barring a disaster here tomorrow night, should be headed for their second straight Olympic Games.

"Our goal was to win the short program and this will give us a lot of confidence [going into the long program]," said Ina, 25.

When they beat Meno and Sand last year in Nashville, it was because Sand dropped Meno during the long program. Ina and Dungjen were not only encouraged last night by the fact that both teams skated cleanly, but that their decision to switch back to their former short program paid off.

The change came three weeks ago, after much deliberation with Burrows, choreographer Tatiana Tarsova, as well as a number of judges. Burrows felt that the music from "Zorba" wasn't in sync with the choreography. Ina and Dungjen went back to using music from a Japanese group called Kudo, which could help them next month in Nagano.

"It's the first time we skated this in competition since last year's worlds," said Dungjen, who has been skating with his right thumb taped since slightly tearing a ligament during Skate America in late October.

They'll have another month before the Olympics begin and are hoping to improve on their ninth-place finish at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Burrows says his skaters' performance in Japan will have much to do with their spot in the rotation.

"If we stop skating first in the short program, it might be a very good Olympics," Burrows said last night. "To do what they did tonight, after Meno and Sand skated so well, shows how they can handle the pressure. I think they can skate with anybody in the world."

Ina and Dungjen were paired by Burrows at a point when both of their careers were in flux. Ina, who won a U.S. junior title as a singles skater in 1989, had yet to back it up in senior competition. (She would finish fourth two years ago, but stopped last year to concentrate on pairs.) Dungjen had been a U.S. junior pairs champion with his sister Susan, but had quit for nearly two years after his sister stopped skating competitively.

Considering their age, this could be their last shot. Even though Ina could have a few more years left competitively, turning 30 last September was something of a crossroads for Dungjen.

The small stipend they receive from the U.S. Olympic Committee helps, but it doesn't pay all the bills. There's a possibility that with another Olympic appearance, Ina and Dungjen will give up their status as eligibles and go the full-time ice-show route.

But first comes Nagano.

"We want to give it our best shot," said Ina.

Apparently they will.

NOTES: During practice yesterday, Michelle Kwan fell on the triple flip, the jump she put into her short program to replace the triple toe loop that causes pain to her injured left foot. Kwan will continue her rivalry today with defending champion Tara Lipinski when the ladies short program gets under way at noon. In the compulsory dance competition yesterday, Jayna Cronin of Bel Air and Yovanny Durango finished 12th among the 14 teams. This is only their second competition together and their first nationals.

U.S. Championships

Men's junior short program

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