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Ina-Zimmerman Win U.S. Pairs

February 12, 2000

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Kyoko Ina grinned and gave a thumbs up as she and John Zimmerman skated over to a fan holding a sign that read, ``Kyoko and John, Go for the Gold.″

Mission accomplished.

In just their second season, Ina and Zimmerman showed a passion, unity and beauty usually reserved for couples together far longer as they won their first pairs title Friday night in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

``This is the first really great one that we’ve had,″ Ina said. ``And the months of work finally showed.″

It is Ina’s third title; she won the first two (1997-98) with Jason Dungjen. She is the first female pairs skater to win titles with different partners since Melissa Militano, who won with her brother, Mark, in 1973 and Johnny Johns in 1974 and ’75.

Skating to ``Phantom of the Opera,″ Ina and Zimmerman also made the crowd forget _ if only for 4 1/2 minutes _ the desperate state of American pairs. While almost everyone else crashed and bobbled their way around the ice, Ina and Zimmerman seemed to float.

They made difficult lifts look easy, with Zimmerman carrying Ina as if she were a feather. Their twists were huge, with Ina soaring high above the ice yet coming back down with the lightest of landings. Their jumps were grand and their spins graceful.

Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, who finished second, were the only others to make it through their program relatively cleanly, though she stepped out of their throw triple salchow. They also had a small bobble on the landing of their split triple twist.

Tiffany and Johnnie Stiegler, in third place after the short program, were simply disastrous and dropped to fifth. Larisa Spielberg and Craig Joeright had a few problems, such as his stepping out of a double axel, but they attacked their program with gusto and speed.

Still, they had to wait for the Stieglers to skate to see if they’d finish third.

``That’s more nervewracking than skating itself,″ Spielberg said.

Though Ina and Zimmerman have been skating pairs for years, they didn’t get together until last season. They arrived for last year’s nationals after only a few months of training, and their unfamiliarity was glaringly evident. Though they had the tricks, they were lacking that spark that makes pairs so beautiful.

Not this year. Dressed in creamy gold costumes, they skated together as if they knew each other’s every move. Their side-by-side combination spins were so in synch they looked like they were being pulled by the same thread.

The slow middle section of their program was filled with romantic dance moves, accented by a perfect throw triple loop jump. When she landed the loop _ which has given her problems in the past _ Ina’s face lit up.

``After the loop, I was like, `Stay calm and stay connected somehow,‴ she said. ``Everyone always accused me of being too athletic and John not being too artistic. But tonight we jelled.″

As their music came to an end, the crowd rose to its feet and Zimmerman punched his left fist in the air. Then he hugged her, holding her for several seconds as they were showered with flowers and stuffed animals.

``Tonight,″ Zimmerman said, ``is the zenith of it so far for us.″

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