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  Russia's Urmanov Swings Skating Gold

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 1994; Page D1

HAMAR, Norway, Feb. 19 — On the night of nights in men's Olympic figure skating, with some of the greatest names and resumes in the history of the sport in attendance, a man who had never finished better than third in a major international competition beat them all.

Aleksei Urmanov, a 20-year-old classical stylist from St. Petersburg, became the first Russian to win the men's Olympic gold medal when he grabbed the title out of the outstretched hands of Canadian strongman Elvis Stojko, who had skated powerfully before him. Urmanov won six of the nine judges' first-place marks.

Stojko, 21, who performed the most technically difficult routine of the free skate competition at the Olympic Amphitheatre, took the silver medal, and French showman Philippe Candeloro, 22, earned the bronze.

It was a clean sweep for the youngest of the elite skaters in the competition, and an exact repetition of the results of the technical program. Few expected the trio to hold up under the tremendous pressure of holding the lead in the Games and also mixing with the legends of their sport, but they did it.

Look at the skaters they defeated tonight. There was Viktor Petrenko, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist, who leaped from ninth after the technical program to fourth overall with perhaps the finest long program of his career.

There was Kurt Browning, the four-time world champion from Canada who moved from 12th to fifth with a spectacular, Bogartesque free skate of his own.

And, finally, there was Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist from the United States who, like Petrenko, returned from professional skating for another run at a medal. He too performed much better in the long program than Thursday's short program, but it was not enough. He pulled himself up only from eighth to sixth.

Of the top skaters in the competition, the only man who had a bad night was the other U.S. skater, two-time national champion Scott Davis. He fell in the opening moments of his program on a triple Axel and crashed again on a double Axel and dropped from fourth after the short program to eighth overall.

"You always want to have the performance of your life at the Olympics, and that didn't happen," said Davis, 22, of Great Falls, Mont.

The performances of Boitano and Davis meant that for the first time since the 1976 Olympics, the United States did not win a medal in the men's figure skating competition. What's more, this was the worst overall U.S. performance in men's figure skating since the 1936 Games, when no American man finished in the top eight.

Boitano's problem was not tonight. It was Thursday's short program, when he fell on a triple Axel in the first minute of his program and effectively wiped out any chance he had for a medal.

"I feel good about what happened today," said Boitano, 30, of Sunnyvale, Calif. "But it was rough coming back. I knew this year would be rough, but I didn't think it would be quite like this. Sixth place was not what I had imagined when I started this, but I'll take a lot of great things from this year."

Asked what those would be, Boitano said: "The simple things ... like my last triple Axel tonight. It's funny, the only thing I didn't like about my performance in Calgary in 1988 was the second triple Axel. This second triple Axel was better tonight. That kind of rounded it off for me."

Boitano, who clearly did not have the stamina nor the power at the end that the younger skaters had, still pulled out one of the finest jumps of the night when he landed the most difficult of all more than three minutes into the 4½-minute program. In all, he landed six triples, but had a couple of bobbles that prevented him from being perfect.

For old time's sake, there also was Petrenko, 25, of Ukraine, who landed seven triple jumps, two in the final minute of the program, to earn one perfect 6.0 from the Romanian judge.

And what about Browning, the 27-year-old who had absolutely no chance to win? He nailed six triples and was his old theatrical self, performing charmingly to "Casablanca."

There was a certain whimsical quality about all three veterans tonight.

Said Browning: "I've improved every Olympics. I've been eighth, sixth and fifth. In the year 2008, I should win this thing."

In this competition, that was left to Urmanov, who stumbled badly on a triple flip late in his performance but still landed seven triples in all.

Urmanov was the first skater ever to land a quadruple jump in Olympic competition when he did it in Albertville, where he finished fifth. Neither he nor Stojko, who also has completed the jump in competition, tried it here.

Most experts were surprised Urmanov won the title. Included in that group would be Urmanov himself.

"I didn't think the gold medal was possible, with the two professionals coming back and Kurt Browning," he said. "I thought they were too strong. I didn't think they'd make mistakes in the technical program, did you?"

Stojko, skating to the soundtrack from the "Bruce Lee Story," impressed the nine judges technically with his seven triples, including the toughest combination jump of all, the triple Axel-triple toe, but didn't do much for them artistically. He received scores as low as 5.5 and 5.6 for artistic impression, too low to win the gold against Urmanov's 5.8s and 5.9s.

But the wild card in the whole affair was Candeloro, who had won the crowd over with a stunning show — including a slight rest against the boards — to the music of the movie "The Godfather." Skating after Stojko and before Urmanov, it seemed he might have had the gold medal for himself, until he tried to do too much.

Seconds before he was to finish, he tried to nail a final triple Axel, which would have been his eighth triple overall. But he crumbled to the ground, and with him went his chances.

"I felt a little tight at the end, but the triple Axel was scheduled. ... I had to do it," he said. "This is my style. I have to take risks."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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