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  Ex-Champions Tumble in Technical Program

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 1994; Page A1

 Brian Boitano falls just 50 seconds into his program while attempting a triple Axel-double toe combination. He finished the techical program in eighth place. (Jerry Lampen/Reuters)
HAMAR, Norway, Feb. 17 — This was the motto of the evening in the men's figure skating technical program at the Winter Olympics: Don't come back. Don't ever come back.

Brian Boitano of the United States and Viktor Petrenko of Ukraine, the gold medalists from the previous two Olympic Games, had returned from the professional ranks to compete here at the Olympic Amphitheatre tonight. So had Canada's Kurt Browning, the four-time world champion who was the 1992 Olympic favorite before a bad back dropped him to sixth place.

Many had picked Boitano, Petrenko and Browning to win the three medals here Saturday night.

Now, after a disastrous and shocking night of stumbles and falls, they stand eighth, ninth and 12th, respectively.

Mistakes in the 2-minute 40-second short program dashed the medal hopes of the famous trio, but they also gave a tremendous boost to the fortunes of a quartet of emerging stars.

Aleksei Urmanov, a 20-year-old Russian who finished fifth in the 1992 Olympics, took the lead after the portion of the competition that equals one-third of the final score with a flawless performance, followed by 21-year-old Canadian Elvis Stojko, a powerful jumper, and France's demonstrative Philippe Candeloro, 22.

Two-time U.S. national champion Scott Davis, 22, finished fourth after two slight bobbles and still has a shot at the gold medal. To win, he must place first in the free skate, which accounts for two-thirds of the final score, and Urmanov must finish third or worse.

For Boitano, 30, to win a second Olympic medal, he would have to skate perfectly and hope five skaters in front of him perform poorly.

"For Brian to climb," said his coach, Linda Leaver, "he needs lots of people to beat lots of people."

It has happened before — but rarely. At the 1986 world championships, Boitano was fifth heading into the free skate and won when he skated well and others faltered. And, at the 1982 worlds, Elaine Zayak was eighth prior to the free skate and jumped to first when everyone else fell apart.

"Anything's possible," Boitano said. "It's not over yet."

Davis was speaking for the four youngsters at the top when he said, "I think it was just a weird night."

The strangeness started as soon as the competition began.

Boitano was the first skater, a terrible position because judges tend to give lower scores early to leave room for those who come later. Even worse, Boitano said, he skated so early he felt as if the competition had not yet begun. The arena was no more than one-fourth full and spectators still were searching for seats when Boitano took to the ice.

Skating to "Carousel Waltz," Boitano nailed the first required jump, a triple Lutz, looking more assured and comfortable than at any point in the U.S. Olympic trials last month.

As he skated toward his triple Axel-double toe combination just 50 seconds into his program and took off into the air, Leaver said he had perfect form. But something happened on the way down. If anything, Leaver and Boitano said later, he had been too excited and had jumped too high, so when his skate searched for the ice, it still wasn't there.

When Boitano finally landed, he crumbled, twisting around on both hands before righting himself. By then, it was too late to perform the double jump, which meant he failed to complete the combination jump, a required element of the competition, and automatically had to receive a .5-point deduction on his technical mark. What's worse, the technical program is unforgiving; it's so short and rigid that one mistake and you're out of the top five, guaranteed.

Boitano was given technical scores of 4.8 to 5.2. The judges helped him as much as they could on the second mark, for artistic impression — all 5.6s and 5.7s — but it wasn't enough as he fell further into the field as the evening wore on.

"I wasn't crushed," Boitano said. "It was more a feeling of relief. I told myself I have so much else in my life. I went over to the practice rink and sat by myself and told myself I've done a lot of really great things. I was much tougher on myself when I was 19. If this had happened then, I would have been suicidal."

The rationalization was just beginning for the veterans. Petrenko, skating fifth, fell out of his combination jump and two-footed his triple Lutz. That put him below Boitano.

After everyone else had skated, along came Browning. He is Canada's Dan Jansen, to a degree; the world's best who can't win at the Olympics.

Browning wasn't just bad; he was horrid. He fell on his triple Lutz as a stunned hush came over the crowd. He turned a double Axel into a single, and finished by half-heartedly pulling out of a final spin.

"If you had told me I would have been ahead of Viktor and Kurt, I would have thought I'd probably have been in the top five," Boitano said. "I never would have thought this."

Misha Shmerkin, the Russian Jew who emigrated to Israel to escape religious persecution, is 15th after an entertaining program that, like Boitano's, contained a fall in the combination jump.

Otherwise, Shmerkin, who enjoys playing to the crowd with a showman's style, performed well as Israel's first Winter Olympic athlete.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post

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