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Browning has Boitano’s number at Landover

December 16, 1996

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) _ It’s not often anyone beats Brian Boitano. And it’s certainly rare for it to happen at the same event two years in a row.

But Kurt Browning has done just that, using his showman abilities to top his skating hero and retain the men’s title at the World Professional Figure Skating Championship.

``I really didn’t think I was going to win,″ Browning said after Saturday night’s victory at USAir Arena. ``Last year, it was a surprise. This year, it’s another surprise. ... Brian Boitano, in my book, is a technical wizard we can pattern ourselves after _ if you have the guts.″

Last year, Boitano fans were incensed as Browning won by gyrating to the Commodores’ 1970s hit ``Brick House,″ while Boitano arguably skated a better, but less crowd-pleasing, routines.

This year, there could be no such dispute. Boitano fell on a triple toe loop and touched down on a triple axel in his technical program, giving Browning a huge lead that was nearly impossible to overcome.

``The technical program was not me,″ said Boitano, who finished second overall and, according to unofficial counts, failed to win for only the fifth time in 25 competitions as a pro. ``I think I felt a lot of pressure. People are always expecting consistency.″

In both routines, Browning went for the T-shirt look as he skated to soulful numbers by Nat King Cole and Al Jarreau. He ended the Cole program on both knees, gesturing with outstretched arms to the judges and earning scores of 9.8 and 9.9.

His artistic routine to Jarreau’s ``Summertime″ won all 9.9s for artistic impression, better scores than Boitano’s riveting skate from ``The Phantom of the Opera.″

``The program is not for the crowd, it’s for me,″ Browning said. ``It’s movement and dance and a lot of fun.″

This year’s championships lacked the drama of previous years, with the first-placed skaters after the technical programs holding their leads and going on to win.

Kristi Yamaguchi admitted to having an off night _ she had a fall and several bobbles in her technical routine and skipped a jump in her artistic program _ but she still handily won the women’s event for the third time.

``I didn’t skate like I wanted to,″ Yamaguchi told the sellout crowd during the awards ceremony, ``so I’ll have to come back next year and skate better for you all.″

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean had their usual love-in with the audience to win their fifth dance title. Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov, runners-up in Landover four times, won their first major pairs title with two routines filled with innovative lifts.

``This year, finally,″ Bechke said.

``(The lifts) are fun because we know we can be pretty good at that,″ she said. ``We’re trying to create more stuff every year. ... Sometimes we feel like we’ve already done everything, but that’s not true because we can still come up with something new.″

Yamaguchi was not the only woman to struggle, with none of the others executing clean technical programs. Defending champion Yuka Sato and third-place Caryn Kadavy rallied with solid artistic routines, but could not catch Yamaguchi.

Ekaterina Gordeeva, in her solo debut in the event she won three times in pairs with late husband Sergei Grinkov, appeared sad and uncomfortable most of the evening and placed fourth.

She was the only skater with large gaps on either side of her as the competitors lined up following introductions. She remained downcast as the others smiled during the awards ceremony. She sat alone in the corner of the bar with her head down at the post-event party put on by sponsor NutraSweet.

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