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Second in Friday’s short program, Vanessa Gusmeroli’s free

March 22, 1997

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ Second in Friday’s short program, Vanessa Gusmeroli’s free skate on Saturday will tell her if she made the right choice.

Competing seriously in both water skiing and figure skating, at 13 Gusmeroli was forced to decide between the sports when both French federations gave her an ultimatum.

Gusmeroli chose skating.

A title in these championships, or even a medal, would justify her choice.

Gusmeroli could become the first Frenchwoman to win a world title since Jacqueline du Bief in 1952.

To accomplish the feat, the 18-year-old would have to avoid faltering in her free skate as she did in the European Championships, in which she dropped from third to sixth after the long program.

Despite devoting most of her energy to figure skating, Gusmeroli has quietly continued her water skiing activities in the offseason, even winning the French junior and senior championships in 1995 and the European junior title in 1996.

``Water skiing is a risky sport, especially for a serious skater,″ said Gusmeroli who began water skiing at the age of three and figure skating at six. ``But it brings me great pleasure.″

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FASSI MEMORIAL SERVICE: The figure skating championships will end on a somber note, with a memorial service to be held Sunday for celebrated coach Carlo Fassi.

Family, friends, pupils and colleagues will gather at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne for the service. The skaters will then return to the Malley stadium to celebrate the sport the 67-year-old man had dedicated his life to, with a gala exhibition on ice.

Fassi died of a heart attack on Thursday, leaving the skating world stunned and grieving during its championships.

No skaters were more affected by the loss than his current students, American Nicole Bobek and Cornel Gheorghe of Romania, who were left drifting without his guidance and support in the worlds.

Bobek, who finished eighth in the short program, managed to compose herself for her program but broke down afterward.

``I felt the warmth and the support of the crowd, their understanding of what I was going through,″ Bobek said.

The entire U.S. team was affected by Fassi’s death in some way or another.

Michelle Kwan, who trains on the same ice as Bobek, had still not come to grips with Fassi’s death.

``It’s really disappointing to hear that kind of news about somebody you know or were with, and now it’s only a memory,″ said Kwan, 16.

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AGE RAGE: With Tara Lipinski leading after the short program, some skaters have been grumbling about the 14-year-old’s participation in the championships.

At 4-feet-8 and 75 pounds, Lipinski’s tiny size makes her appear even younger, compounding the controversy surrounding her eligibility.

``With such young skaters, it seems to me like we’re returning to the days of baby gymnasts,″ said 22-year-old French skater Laetitia Hubert, seventh after the short program.

``Meanwhile, skaters my age are very capable of landing triple jumps, but with experience and femininity added to that,″ continued Hubert, who fell on a triple flip in the short program.

While skaters are required to be at least 15 to partake in senior competition, Lipinski is exempt from the rule under a clause that allowed her in these championships if she had already competed as a senior.

With a top-notch performance in Saturday’s free program, Lipinski could replace Norway’s storied Sonja Henie as the youngest skater to win a world championship.

Not all skaters feel Lipinski too young to participate.

Hubert’s teammate, Vanessa Gusmeroli, was pretty nonchalant about the age issue.

``Whether the champion is 14 or 26 doesn’t matter. It just means that she is the best,″ said Gusmeroli, 18.

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