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Russians Win Ice Dance Compulsories

By Barry Wilner
Associated Press
Friday, February 13, 1998; 10:05 a.m. EST

NAGANO, Japan — The building was half-empty. The competitors went through the motions. This is Olympic figure skating? Sort of.

The ice dance compulsories, with almost five stultifying hours of pre-designed waltzes and tangos, led to the usual outcome tonight: the Russians on top.

Compulsories put the emphasis on repetitiveness. It is one of many areas in which Russian dancers excel.

Defending Olympic champs Pasha Grishuk and Yevgeny Platov won both dances. They were regal enough for the waltz, teasingly passionate in the tango.

And slightly on edge overall.

"It was a little bit nervousness,'' Grishuk said. "I think it turned out pretty well. Our second dance was a lot better, but there still were some nerves. After all, it is the Olympics. I am happy how we held up under the pressure.''

Their frequent challengers, Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov, were second, followed by Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France — although she was born in Moscow.

The runners-up didn't accept their placing quietly. Told that the leaders tripped slightly during the waltz, Krylova said, "I don't know about this; it is very political. I think only about my performance, not about my place.''

Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, five-time U.S. champions and sixth at last year's world championships, were seventh after tonight's compulsories, which count for 20 percent of the total score.

"Ever since we got here it has been a different feeling,'' said Punsalan, whose father was murdered by her brother just before the 1994 Olympics, in which the couple finished 15th. "We're a lot more excited and relaxed. We've taken advantage of all the opportunities here, gotten out to do and see some things.''

World junior champions Jessica Joseph and Charles Butler, who made the U.S. Olympic squad in their first senior event by finishing second at nationals, stood 21st.

"We made it through,'' Butler said. "This is our first senior international, so we have no expectations for placement. It's just to show the judges we are here.''

The original dance (30 percent) is Sunday night and the free dance (50 percent) is Monday night.

With the notable exception of Torvill and Dean of Britain in 1984, Olympic ice dancing has belonged to the Russians. But no couple has won two gold medals because the winners always have turned pro in the past.

Grishuk and Platov felt they were too young in '94 to leave the eligible ranks. So they embarked on a 21-event winning streak and now, at ages 26 and 30, respectively, are ice dancing's dominators.

The biggest change in their lives came when her first name went from Oksana to Pasha because she didn't want people confusing her with 1994 women's gold medalist Oksana Baiul, whom Grishuk once called a criminal.

The only thing remotely criminal about their sport is its predictability. Although Grishuk and Platov's victory in 1994 was somewhat unexpected — they beat Torvill and Dean, who returned from the pro ranks with a one-time exemption, and 1992 bronze medalists Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin — it was the only upset in recent memory.

So to expect anything different here would be a stretch.

"The Olympic Games are very political,'' Krylova reiterated. "More than at worlds, a lot more than Europeans.''

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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