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Olympic Skaters Compete in Dry Run

December 21, 1997

MUNICH, Germany (AP) _ The next time the world figure skating champions compete, the stakes will be gold.

An Olympic dry run for figure skating’s elite, the Champions Series Final over the weekend provided at least a status report, if not a preview, of the real thing.

Tara Lipinski’s edge is back. Elvis Stojko is most vulnerable when his quad fails. Pairs Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer can’t seem to avoid injuries. And ice dancers Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov don’t reserve their audacity for the arena.

Each of these world champions faced only the best of the batch during two days of competition _ a distilled version of the games. But medal contenders in each event sat out with injuries that should be long mended by the time the games are held.

Nagano will be another patch of ice.

Figure skating’s youngest women’s world champion, Lipinski skated two perfectly executed programs: A sparkling short that showcases her graceful spirals and spins inspired by the animated story of an orphan who’s really the daughter of royalty, and a difficult long program packed with seven clean triples.

Lipinski’s victory _ her first this season _ can be measured by her marks: 5.8s and 5.9s for both technical and artistic presentation in the long.

She beat two flawless and elegant performances by Germany’s Tanja Szewczenko _ who hit seven clean triples in a stunning comeback from a career-threatening virus _ and Russia’s Elena Butryskaya. But Lipinski will have to hold her edge against American Michelle Kwan _ out with a stress fracture _ at the Olympics.

Confused by low technical marks earlier this season blamed on a tendency to switch edges on the jump, Lipinski apparently has corrected the problem to the judge’s satisfaction, though her boot still wobbled on takeoff this weekend.

``I knew I had to do everything,″ Lipinski said. Actually doing it ``gives me a lot of confidence.″

The quad may not yet make the men’s Olympian champion. But without it, athletic skaters like Stojko may be at a disadvantage.

During Saturday’s free skate, Stojko fell on his quad, and finished second to Russia’s Ilya Kulik, who landed two hands down on the quad himself, but didn’t get ruffled as he often had. With a balletic program, Kulik hit eight clean triples _ matching Stojko’s performance but earning higher artistic marks: five 5.9s.

Stojko, who has packed his Olympic programs with quick stepwork to shake the perception his programs lack expression, said he’d use the results to improve for Nagano.

``It’s just another stepping stone on the way to the Olympics,″ Stojko said.

The only competitor to land the quad cleanly was Russian Alexei Yagudin, who entered the long program in last place. American Todd Eldredge, quad shy, finished third without it, hitting seven triples in his best long program this season.

Pairs world champions Woetzel-Steuer can’t seem to shake a run of bad luck with injuries.

Skating their world championship-winning programs for a second season, sheer repetition has so far compensated for lost practice time after Steuer’s knee surgeries during the summer.

But the lingering pain from the fluke injury to Steuer’s forearm showed in their long program: the twisting throw lacked power, the one-handed lifts couldn’t hold.

``I am sure his arm is really bad, because after the program he ran straight to see the doctor,″ Woetzel said. ``It’s worse than before.″

Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze _ in only their second season as a pair _ beat Woetzel-Steuer for the second time this season.

The ice dancers’ impatience to shake up the often stagnant standings showed on and off the ice in Munich.

World ice dancing champions Grishuk-Platov skated with an innovative free dance that earned them four perfect 6.0s.

But Russians Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov have been earning 6.0s since the debut of their free dance this year, although the rivals have yet to compete head-to-head this season: Grishuk-Platov skipped the Russian nationals; Krylova-Ovsyannikov passed on the Champions Series Final.

``You ask any skater after the competition to try to do the moves I’m doing,″ Grishuk said. ``I would like to see how some of the skaters could do the same moves.″

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