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 The short program was long on controversy.
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Russians Win a Pair of Medals in Pairs

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 1998; Page C1

 Artur Dmitriev and Oksana Kazakova extended the Russian domination of pairs with a soulful performance that earned a perfect 6.0 from one judge. (Gary Hershorn/AP)
NAGANO, Feb. 10 — Facing the Russians in many sports venues across the world hasn't been the same since the Soviet Union split. The awesome Soviet athletic machine had been broken into many pieces, disassembled too thoroughly.

Not, however, in pairs skating.

A Russian one-two finish in the Olympic Games pairs competition at the White Ring ice rink in front of about 8,000 tonight reaffirmed which nation is the best in the world in this event. Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev won their first Olympic gold medal together, and coun trymates Elena Berezhnaya and An ton Sikharulidze moved up from third after the short program to capture the silver.

It was the fourth consecutive Olympic Games in which Russian pairs captured the top two spots and the 10th straight in which a Russian pair has won gold.

"It's tradition," said Tamara Mosk vina, the coach of both Russian pairs. "We can continue. How? By working hard."

The finish of Berezhnaya and Sik harulidze not only bumped Germans Mandy Wotzel and Ingo Steuer into third place from second after the short program, it also pushed the medal hopes of Americans Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen into the background. Ina and Dungjen skated an adequate program to secure fourth place, their best Olympic finish.

"I think we needed to be perfect," Ina said of their chances to win a medal after their fourth place rank in the short program. "And we needed to have a lot of misses on the other end. We had a good time. We had fun. We are fourth in the Olympics, and that's fine with us."

The night belonged to Dmitriev, who seemed awed by his and Kaza kova's Olympic achievement just 3½ years after they began skating together. With the victory, he became the first man to win Olympic medals with two different skaters.

In 1992, he won a gold medal with Natalia Mishkutenok in Albertville, France. The pair won a silver together in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway. This year, he added another gold to his collection and raised the question: Is he the best male pairs skater in history?

While many would say that honor belongs to the late Russian Sergei Grinkov, who died during a workout in 1995, Dmitriev certainly has revived debate on the matter. Asked if Dmitriev was among the best ever, Moskvina said: "Yes. [It's] the wideness of his heart, he has a great heart. Of course, that's why I put them together. To make an Olympic champion."

Dmitriev isn't saying whether he will remain in pairs skating for another Olympics (2002 in Salt Lake City). He claims to have given up smoking and drinking to meet the demands of his sport, but a side of him remains decidedly capricious. When asked why he continued skating after winning his second Olympic medal, Dmitriev said: "Skating is a very easy sport. Just skate and jump. I decide, because I could still skate and jump, I would do some more."

Dmitriev wasn't the only skater in a jocular mood. Despite coming in second, Sikharulidze was able to crack a joke about the dire mistake that might have cost him and his partner the gold.

Skating with only two pairs to follow, Sikharulidze and Berezhnaya seemed to put themselves into gold medal contention with a crisp and elegant piece. Until, that is, about five seconds remained in their program.

A strange mishandling caused Berezhnaya to fall out of the closing star lift, sending both her and her partner to the ice as the music concluded. The mistake was as shocking as it was glaring. Sikharu lidze and Berezhnaya wore looks of disbelief as they took their bows and retreated, heads down, from the ice.

"I don't know what I can say," Sikharulidze said later, then deadpanned: "It's a new finish. If you don't like it, we'll change it, no problem."

Despite the error, the Russians moved into first place ahead of the German team, a fact that didn't sit well with Steuer.

"Today we were very, very good and we were third," Steuer said. "Ask the judges."

With both pairs of her skaters out of ear shot, their coach, Moskvina, said softly that Dmitriev and Kazakova clearly deserved the gold — even without the benefit of the other Russians' fall.

"It's artistry," she said. "I think they are mature skating."

Ina and Dungjen were next-to-last with their program, which included two mistakes: a hand down on the side-by-side triple toe loops by Dungjen and a stumble on a triple Axel by Ina. That left Kazakova and Dmitriev with little to do but take the wrapping off their gold medal.

They are a pair known for their passion, despite their relative inexperience. Before joining Dmitriev, Kazakova's biggest achievement was finishing 15th with her former partner, Dmitri Sukhanov, in the 1993 world championships.

Before taking the ice, Dmitriev, 30, had advice for Kazakova, 22.

"I tell her we are ready for competition," Dmitriev said. "I don't have an injury now, I don't have a bad condition. I have everything for skating. We just must skate with emotion for the public and for ourself."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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