Arakawa takes crown

Cohen 2nd

Kwan 3rd

Win may herald long run for Japanese women

Figure Skating

March 28, 2004|By Philip Hersh | Philip Hersh,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

DORTMUND, Germany - It had been a decade since Yuka Sato became one of two Japanese figure skating champions, and both triumphs were regarded as near-oddities.

Shizuka Arakawa's victory yesterday was different. It might have marked the start of a decade of dominance for Japanese women.

They were first, fourth and seventh in these world championships, by far the best overall performance of a women's team.

And behind those three - Arakawa (age 22), Miki Ando (16), the first woman to land a quadruple jump, and former world medalist Fumie Suguri (23) - are a dozen such talents as the Asaga sisters - Mai (15) and Mao (13) - who already are capable of unprecedented moves.

"We are trying to be the leading country," said Nagahisa Ono, figure skating chairman of the Japan Skating Federation.

Arakawa clearly was the leading women's skater this past week, taking the title with a final long program that blended exquisite body positions and high-difficulty jumps.

"I am very surprised and very happy," Arakawa said.

Sasha Cohen of the United States was second, winning her first world medal, but once again botched her chance for the big prize because of a flawed final free skate.

Teammate Michelle Kwan, a five-time world champion, was third after having her performance delayed nearly four minutes when an intruder jumped onto the ice in a publicity stunt.

Arakawa's best previous finish in the world meet was eighth. She didn't even earn a spot on Japan's world teams from 1999 through 2002.

"I was still a teen and didn't give so much for skating," Arakawa said of the poor seasons. "I have matured the last three years and am very much into skating."

Cohen, 19, made a critical mistake after Arakawa's performance as the first skater in the final group made perfection necessary.

By landing triple-triple-double and triple-triple jump combinations, elements in which the risk deserved rewards even if the second triples fell slightly short of three revolutions, Arakawa was the most impressive athlete, as well as one of the most elegant skaters in the field.

"You see ladies' skating really getting stronger and you have to keep up," Cohen said.

Neither she nor Kwan try triple-triple combinations.

On her first jump, a triple Lutz only 20 seconds into her program, Cohen landed so awkwardly she omitted the double jump that was to follow. Changing the program to do that combination later threw her enough out of sync that she had a "wacky" takeoff on the next jump, a triple Salchow, that became a double Salchow with a two-footed landing.

Kwan had a strange week, with a lackluster qualifying- round skate, a penalty in the short program for skating past the allowed time and the encounter with the intruder. She still won a ninth straight world medal, a record topped by only the 11 of Norway's Sonja Henie.

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