NAGANO, Japan -- A skating ballerina named Oksana Kazakova stood up to her man yesterday.
She matched Artur Dmitriev move for move in a 4 1/2 -minute duet on ice. Whatever he did, she did better. Wherever he led, she followed. And when it was over, she buried her head in Dmitriev's broad chest, an Olympic champion at last.
"I succeeded," Kazakova said. "I wanted very much to prove myself and I did."
Kazakova overcame her nerves and her inexperience to team with Dmitriev to win the pairs figure skating gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
The Russians gave a performance that was both mesmerizing and historic. Dressed in black velvet and gold, they turned Handel's Passacaglia into their song, moving together in time, playing every corner of the White Ring with stupendous lifts and terrifying throws.
And there was one 15-second sequence of beauty and dexterity in which Kazakova flung her left foot over her head, and was carried around the ice by Dmitriev. He sent her off with a touch, and then raced to catch her, taking her hand and appearing like Cupid's arrow.
It was a moment of skating magic, helping Dmitriev become the first man to win two Olympic pairs golds with two partners. He won the 1992 gold and 1994 silver at the Olympics with Natalia Mishkutienok, his longtime partner who retired.
"This is a completely different medal," Dmitriev said. "Maybe the first one was more difficult for the pressure. But this was more difficult [for everything else] and more physically demanding."
Russia's other top couple, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, finished second after falling in the final seconds of their power-packed program that left them just short of the gold.
"It's a new finish pose," Sikharulidze said. "If you do not like it, I will change."
Germany's Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer, the reigning world champions, claimed the bronze and claimed they had achieved a dream. After all, at the 1994 Olympics, the couple didn't even get a chance to skate in the final, as Woetzel crashed to the ice in the warmup and opened a gash in her chin.
Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen, the U.S. champions, were fourth, while their teammates Jenni Meno and Todd Sand dropped to ninth.
But the night belonged to Kazakova, 22, and Dmitriev, 30. It was in February 1995, that Dmitriev first noticed the deceptively powerful Kazakova, who is 5 feet 2 and weighs 108 pounds.
She was just another skater in training at the ramshackle rink of champions in St. Petersburg overseen by coach Tamara Moskvina.
"I found Oksana with the help of God," Dmitriev said.
And the approval of Moskvina.
"I asked him, 'Did you make the good choice? Yes. Did you talk to her coach? Yes. Did you like her? Yes. Will you choose her? Yes.' I rely on your selection."
Moskvina considers Dmitriev the perfect male partner.
"Artur never argues. Never," she said. "He's very careful with his partner. He never swears. He never quarrels. He is a very nice man."
Dmitriev's patience paid off. The couple started with easy moves, progressed over a month, but then, went back to basics after Kazakova was sidelined for six months with a leg injury.
Much was expected from this new couple. But Kazakova was tentative, and Dmitriev was overweight and out of shape, puffing cigarettes and drinking alcohol.
"Everyone expected the best skating, the best performance," Kazakova said. "We had been together half a year. Even talented people couldn't have good results in that time."
Kazakova also had to come out of the shadow of Dmitriev's former partner, Mishkutienok. "I never followed Natalia and I never wanted to follow her," she said. "We are completely different."
In the Olympic year, Dmitriev gave up drinking and began working on Kazakova's confidence.
"I told her, we are ready for the competition," he said. "We didn't have an injury. Everything would be for the skating. We would skate with emotion for the public and for ourselves."
Day after day, they also had to skate with their Russian friends and rivals, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze. It was only in the last month that Moskvina separated the couples, so they would not compete every day in practice.
At the Olympics, it was Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze who were nervous and error-prone, while Kazakova and Dmitriev owned the White Ring ice, winning the short program and dominating the final.
Whatever the future holds for this couple, they had this one night, when they won a gold and made history.
Will Dmitriev return to the Olympics? "Maybe if the Olympics are next year," he said. "Four more years? We'll see."
.......... G S B Tot.
Germany .. 1 2 3 6
Russia ... 3 2 0 5
Finland .. 2 1 1 4
Austria .. 0 1 3 4
Norway ... 0 1 3 4
Japan .... 2 1 0 3
Canada ... 1 1 1 3
Italy .... 0 2 1 3
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Pub Date: 2/11/98