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 U.S. pairs skater Kyoko Ina is finding she can go home again — to Japan.
 Figure skating section


Pairs' Short Program Long on Controversy

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 1998; 12:30 p.m. EST

 Russian pair
 Russia's Artur Dmitriev spins partner Oksana Kazakova to first place after the short program.
(Doug Mills/AP)
NAGANO, Feb. 8 — No sooner did the first figure skating competition of these Olympics end than the first figure skating judging controversy arose.

It involved the top U.S. pair, Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen, who skated a crisp short program notably bereft of the falls and flubs that were tonight's theme. Yet their marks were only good enough for a fourth-place standing overall entering the long program Tuesday, still in position for a medal but a long shot for gold.

"The judging was inconsistent with Ina and Dungjen," said Peter Nicks, coach of the other U.S. pair, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, who stood sixth. "That, of course, is what we expect. In figure skating, the judging is always inconsistent."

Russia's Artur Dmitriev and Oksana Kazakova were in first place, despite executing a weak death spiral, one of the required moves in the short program. Germany's Ingo Steuer and Mandy Woetzel were second after a clean program. In third were Russians Elena Berezhnaia and Anton Sikharulidze, the current European champions, whose program was interrupted by Sikharulidze's fall in the required side-by-side triple toe loops.

Skating later, Ina and Dungjen avoided any obvious mistakes, although they did not move as quickly over the ice as some other pairs. While the U.S. judge, Roger A. Glenn, gave the pair his first-place vote with two 5.7s for technical merit and presentation, Australian judge Donald McKnight awarded a 5.4 and 5.3, placing them seventh in his order of skaters. German judge Heinz-Ulrich Walther also placed them seventh on his scorecard.

When the marks for he and his partner were posted, Dungjen burst into laughter in the kiss-and-cry area, and the polite crowd of about 7,000 let loose with its only boos of the night. Unlike the long program, which emphasizes artistry, the short program is intended to be a do-or-die test of technical skills.

"I was really shocked at the Australian judge's numbers," said Peter Burrows, Dungjen and Ina's coach. He "must have been judging a different event."

Tamara Moskvina, the coach for both of the Russian pairs, was not eager to dispute the judges' marks for her skaters and seemed to find the entire debate nonsensical. Despite Sikharulidze's fall, the lowest scores the pair received were two 5.4s. Despite the shaky death spiral, Dmitriev and Kazakova received nothing lower than one 5.5.

"It's not my job to judge the judges," Moskvina said. "I think I teach well, as I have two couples here."

The pairs' short program consists of eight required elements that include overhead lifts, pair spins and solo spins done in unison. The nine judges are instructed to deduct certain points for omitting or failing to complete certain elements.

"It looked like a point-four" deduction to me, Nicks said of Sikharulidze's fall. "It was a real banger."

Ina's Japanese heritage — she was born in Tokyo but moved to the United States as an infant — might have had something to do with the crowd support she and Dungjen received. But even Japan's pairs team — last-place finishers Marie Arai and Shin Amano — didn't receive as rousing an ovation from this seemingly sleepy audience, which was about 1,000 short of capacity. Though Arai and Amano were thrown more flowers, Dungjen pretended to dodge the numerous flowers he and Ina were thrown.

"We're not concerned about what other people do," Dungjen said. "The reason we're so happy is we accomplished what we wanted to. I can tell you, I know that's one of the best feelings I've ever had because we skated clean."

Each of the top three pairs has had reason to celebrate recently, tonight's scores aside. Kazakova and Dmitriev are a relatively new team, having skated together only two years. In his 10th year of international competition at age 30, he is trying to become the first man to win Olympic medals with different partners. He won a gold in 1992 and a silver in 1994 with Natalia Mishkutenok.

Woetzel and Steuer returned to training only 12 days ago. They missed about two months after Steuer was struck by a car Dec. 8 on his way to practice. Walking on the side of the road, Steuer was brushed by the car's side mirror and suffered a right shoulder injury that hasn't healed fully.

"It was painful, especially in the spin, but I had enough power to skate to the end," said Steuer. "The weather was changing today, it was snowing; and I can feel it in my shoulder."

Berezhnaia overcame a serious head injury when her former partner struck her with his skate blade during a side-by-side camel spin in 1996. Sikharulidze claims to have recently given up smoking and drinking.

"I just need to concentrate for my first Olympic Games," Sikharulidze, 21, said. "I'm very young."

Ina and Dungjen are knocking on the door of international-caliber figure skating. Ninth-place finishers at the 1994 Olympic Games, Ina and Dungjen unseated three-time national champs Meno and Sand in 1997. They enter these Games trying to prove to the international judges that they are among the world's best.

Skating to Japanese drum music, they performed the short program better than they ever have, according to Burrows. And because the short program is worth only 33 percent of the overall score, the pair still has a chance for a gold medal. They do, however, need help. Their fourth-place finish means that, to win the gold, they must win the long program and see today's leaders finish in third place or lower.

"Maybe," Burrows said, "we'll get a medal after the whole thing."

Ina and Dungjen, who embraced joyfully on the ice after competing, didn't seem worried about where they would finish. Ina seemed far more interested in the crowd's response than that of the judges.

"We had a wonderful time," she said. "It was so nice to have all the Japanese fans behind us, as well as all the foreigners."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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