Russians Win Skate America Pairs
Nov. 01, 1998
DETROIT (AP) _ Even the ``Merlin'' soundtrack couldn't bring back Elvis Stojko's magic Saturday.
Showing rust from eight months away with a groin injury, Stojko capped his return to competition with a shaky Skate America routine that left him fourth behind two Russians and an upstart American.
Reigning world champion Alexei Yagudin triumphed in the international event, withstanding runner-up Michael Weiss of Fairfax, Va., and his equally flawless routine.
Alexei Urmanov finished third, unable to rekindle the rivalry some had expected this week with three-time world champion Stojko, whom Urmanov edged for Olympic gold at Lillehammer in 1994.
Earlier Saturday, reigning world champions and Olympic silver medalists Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia held their lead and won the pairs title.
Stojko and Urmanov entered Skate America with realistic expectations of how they would fare, each on the mend from groin injuries. They suggested they just wanted to test their legs and restoke competitive fires.
They said they weren't preoccupied with winning the event. Yagudin never offered them the chance.
Guided by a new coach, the 18-year-old Russian cleanly landed all of his jumps during Saturday's routine to ``Lawrence of Arabia'' music and skated away with marks never lower than 5.8, two-tenths shy of perfection.
Yagudin had entered the decisive free skate leading after the short program two days earlier, then fended off a charge by Weiss, runner-up in the U.S. championships the past two years.
To the music of Disney's ``Mulan,'' Weiss skated his way to a crowd's standing ovation and the tearful embrace of his wife and choreographer, Lisa. Stuffed animals and bouquets rained onto the rink.
At 22, Weiss still is growing as a skater. He won the world junior championships in 1994, then struggled to work his way up at the senior ranks.
Always athletic, he worked on his artistic style to find something to set him apart. His breakthrough came in 1997, when during the U.S. championships he appeared to be the first American to land a quadruple toe loop jump.
The jump later was disallowed, but Weiss had arrived.
Weiss finished seventh at Nagano and did better last month at the Keri Lotion Figure Skating Classic in Florida, placing second and two spots ahead of Olympic champion Ilia Kulik.
And on Saturday, he outshined Stojko and Urmanov.
Urmanov missed all of last season _ including a chance to repeat as Olympic champion _ but made his return a rewarding one _ a silver medal at last summer's Goodwill Games in New York.
Before this week, Stojko hasn't competed since February, when he braved a torn groin of his own en route to the silver at the Nagano Games.
The rust showed Saturday in Stojko, who landed several of his jumps shakily but escaped with marks no lower than a 5.5 from an American judge. Urmanov skated cleanly, sticking all of his jumps and finishing with kisses blown to the crowd.
Canada's Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz finished second in the pairs. Russians Victoria Maksuta and Vladislav Zhovnirsky were third, overtaking American siblings Danielle and Steve Hartsell of nearby Westland, Mich.
Americans Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman vaulted four spots and finished fourth in their first competition together. Ina and former partner Jason Dungjen won two U.S. pair titles _ in 1997 and 1998 _ before Ina broke up the duo last season.
The first event in the International Skating Union's Grand Prix series, Skate America features Olympic-eligible skaters. The series ends in Russia in March, two weeks before the world championships in Finland.