World Preview Part 1

Ladies and Men

by Alexandra Stevenson

Alexandra Stevenson skips along a rambling path twittering and musing about the top skaters, their prospects in the 2004 World Championships in Dortmund, March 22-28, and the issues which surround the event.

Ah, predictions! What fun they are, especially when theyíre wrong and you werenít the one doing the predicting!!

Letís see. The favorites have to be (envelope, please) - Evgeni Plushenko, Russia; Michelle Kwan, U.S.; Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao, China; and Tatiana Navka & Roman Kostomarov, Russia.

With their leading rivals Ė Brian Joubert, France; Emanuel Sandhu, Canada; Sasha Cohen, U.S.; Fumie Suguri, Japan; Tatiana Totmianina & Maxim Marinin, Russia; and Albena Denkova & Maxim Staviyski, Bulgaria.

But who will be the unexpected stars? And where do the Americans Johnny Weir, Jennifer Kirk and the U.S. ice dance champions Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto, Miki Ando of Japan, and Julia Sebestyen of Hungary fit in?

Maybe weíll carry away from this Worlds the memory, not of a particular skater, but of an unexpected avalanche of 6.0s.

For, if Ottavio Cinquanta, the President of the International Skating Union, has his way, this will be an historic world championship Ė the last to be held under the 6.0 system.

Who could blame the judges for using possibly their last chance to give the ultimate accolade to their favorite skater even if that competitor finishes out of the medals?

"I was told to do something (about the judging scandal in the Salt Lake Olympics), and I did," says Cinquanta. But his Code of Points system, which he hopes to get adopted for every international event effective July 1, is facing a lot of opposition.

Those not sold on the idea include Valentin Piseev, the very influential, long time head of the Russian Federation, who declared, "We do not want an experimental system in place during the 2005 world championships in Moscow."

It will be the first time the Russian capital city has ever hosted the event, and Piseev doesnít want his country to lose medals because of an oversight of some new regulation. The event is particularly important because results in the Worlds prior to the Olympics determine the amount of entries countries get to send to Games.

Russia, along with Australia and the United States, has submitted its own alternate proposal for the ISU Agenda to be discussed at the ISU Congress in Holland in June. This will be the 50th ISU Congress, which is held every two years, with significant gaps for the two world wars. It will be held in the very building in which representatives from five countries met and brought the ISU into being in 1892 in Scheveningen.

MEN

CoP, of course, encountered, if not a death blow, then at least a set back when the 21 year old Plushenko did not win the Grand Prix Final. Many Canadians rejoiced when Emanuel Sandhu took the gold medal in Colorado Springs.

The Canadian champion had been only second reserve for the Grand Prix Final. He competed only after Tim Goebel withdrew and Brian Joubert declined the invitation. (Fellow Canadian Jeff Buttle was also entered but withdrew later.) It is true Sandhu beat Plushenko but he did not outskate the Russian.

The situation highlighted many peopleís fears that CoP has not been tested enough to be adopted. Plushenko did not receive the total points he deserved because he did three combinations (including an amazing quad toe-double loop) instead of only the permitted two.

His third combination gained zero points. If, instead, Plushenko had been given marks for the first jump of that combination, a triple Axel, but not the second, he would have won.

Plushenkoís very experienced coach, Alexei Mishin, said he gave his pupil permission to try the new combination but "forgot" to tell him not to do the third one.

Up to that point, Plushenko appeared invincible, despite problems with both knees.

But that cloak was further torn asunder at the European championships in Budapest in January when the 19 year old Joubert beat him.

Last year Joubert was runner-up to Plushenko in the European championships, and the Frenchman boasted in front of the gold medalist and a room full of media, that he would dethrone him.

That was dismissed as an over optimistic hope especially since, a few weeks later, Joubert was only sixth in the world championships while Plushenko reclaimed the title he had won in 2001 but did not defend in 2002.

But Joubert skated superbly to fulfill his self-serving prediction winning the European championship in Budapest in January. It was, however, more a case of Plushenko losing the title, than Joubert winning.

The Russian won the short program with a flamenco and tango routine that showed off his quicker-than-light footwork. But, he only just got airborne after the quad toe and did a double instead of the planned triple toe for the second jump.

It was a tight decision and some argued Joubertís "Time" routine, choreographed by Nicolai Morozov, was better since he did an excellent quad toe to triple toe.

However, there was no questioning Joubertís win in the long. Plushenkoís free was his worst performance since Nice and his detractors said he should have finished even lower than second.

In Nice in the 2000 world championships, Plushenko placed second in the short program but dropped to fourth overall. He said then he had thought too much about the possibility of winning instead of concentrating on his skating. And maybe in Budapest his demise was also due to head condition.

His old nemesis, the Olympic and four time world champion Alexei Yagudin, has been dogging his heels even though Yagudin has given up eligible skating.

When Plushenko won the 2003 Skate Canada Grand Prix, Yagudin used the competition to announce his retirement, and even gave an emotional exhibition. Then at Plushenkoís next Grand Prix event, Lalique, Yagudin's agent held a press conference to tell the French that Yagudin would be working with their champion in his goal to beat Plushenko to the Olympic gold.

Yagudin traveled to the French championships to help Joubert compete and was seen very intensively pacing the boards while Joubert was skating. Although he was not able to be in Budapest, he made encouraging phone calls and sent advice about his preparation and tips concerning jump execution via e-mail to Joubert.

In Budapest, Joubert said Yagudin, who trained alongside Plushenko with Mishin until after he won his first world championship in 1998, will be in Dortmund to help him bring off another Plushenko dethronement.

In Budapest, Plushenko began his "Tribute to Nijinsky" free well, with a trick no one else performs, quad toe loop to triple toe loop to double loop. However, something went wrong on the take-off on his next move, an attempt at a triple Axel, and he had an ungainly, sprawling fall.

He popped a second attempt at this jump. Although he did manage a triple Axel combination later which was combined with a triple toe and double loop, he fell on a triple flip and doubled a Salchow.

"Things like this happen. That is not the end of life. I have won lots of titles. Maybe Brian needed this more than me. He deserved to win," said Plushenko sportingly.

He explains a lot of thought went into the choreography of the free, but, even if you are a ballet aficionado, you will note only a couple of stances that are reminiscent of the tortured genius of the Russian legendary star of the Ballet Russe, who spent the last years of his life in insane asylums.

Joubert, taking a far less ambitious and complicated route, is skating to music from the Matrix trio of movies. In Budapest, he was the only competitor in the free to accomplish two quads and became the first Frenchman to hold the European title since Alain Calmat won in 1964.

Why did Plushenko not take time off early in the season to fix his knees? "I got injured last summer in Japan. But I told my Federation right away that I will skate the whole season. For me, breaks are very hurtful. Skip a week and it takes half a month to recover."

Why did he even skate in Japan when he was worn out? "The Japanese offered me a contract and it didnít make sense to turn it down. It was the beginning of the season. It was good that I skated twice a day. It was so intensive. I hurt my knee because my blade stuck in the trace and there was no place for the leg to go. I got injured because of the bad ice."

And what does he think of his new rival, Joubert? "He is a good skater. Weíll see if he can hold on. In Budapest, I relaxed after the first combination and lost. I will try and we will see who is stronger."

Plushenko has been signed up by Tom Collins to appear in the Champions on Ice tour after Worlds and then he is organizing an exhibition tour in his home country. The knees (and Julia, his girlfriend of the past two and a half years) wonít get his full attention until after then.

The question is - Will they hold up until then?

Sandhu, undoubtedly, is the most artistic of the top men, and the most colorful. He was Canadian Junior champion in 1997 but was shattered when he was left off the 1998 Olympic team.

The 23 year old, who trains in Vancouver, talks of descending to the depths of despair few people experience. He even gave up skating for a short while with the goal of pursuing a life in the ballet world.

Last year, he shocked the skating community by having facial cheek implants.

He admits he is extremely reliant on his coach, Joanne McLeod, yet often takes off without letting her know where heís going or when he hopes to return.

She appears to accept the situation. "Weíve been through the washer and dryer, Emanuel and me. And the dishwasher, too!"

He acknowledges McLeodís influence. "If I didnít have her in my life, Iíd be lost. Sheís a mentor, the person I look up to and respect most in the world. Thereís such an emotional bond. Sheís been my biggest support system. Iíve been with her longer than with my parents."

Sandhu, who is the oldest of three sons, says with what has to be deemed at least a little over exaggeration, "I grew up in turmoil. My parents (who are now separated) were always fighting. There was never any peace at home. The rink was my sanctuary. My family life at the time was like being at the Gaza Strip, or the war in Iraq."

And what happens if jumping inconsistency ruins his spinning superiority and prevents him from victory on the world and Olympic playing fields?

"I want to be a singer. I think I have the right attitude for it. Iíve just started performing in karaoke bars. At first, I was so shy to get up there. But Iím getting better and better at it."

Well, so now you know.

What of last yearís worlds silver medal winner, Tim Goebel? He withdrew from U.S. Nationals after an appalling short program because of boot problems and seems to have dropped off the radar screen.

At the recent world junior championships, his coach, Frank Carroll, said he had seen little of Goebel since nationals. "He has not been in the rink much. He is taking time to heal himself and get the boot problem worked out."

Also not going to Dortmund is Takeshi Honda, the only Japanese man ever to be third in two world championships (2002 and 2003). In October, the 22 year old, who at 14 became the youngest Japanese champion ever, over-rotated a triple Axel to triple toe loop at the Mariposa Skating Club in Barrie, Ontario where he has trained with Doug Leigh for the past six seasons.

"My blade stuck in the ice but my body kept going. It just kept twisting, twisting," Honda said. He couldnít even put on a pair of skates for five weeks. He was forced to withdraw from the Four Continents Championships.

"I have been in treatment three times a day. I tried everything: physio, acupuncture, ultrasound. The doctors told me it couldnít get worse but then it started swelling again. The pain was too much to deal with. Every time I land the pain goes up from my right ankle through my leg all the way to my back.

"I realized for the first time that skating is my life. If I donít skate my day is completely different. Iím just not the same."

Chengliang Li of China, fourth in the Washington D.C. Worlds is technically very able but until he gets some artistry he can hardly be considered a top contender.

The popular, handsome Michael Weiss, former U.S. champion and twice bronze medal winner at Worlds, hasnít shown his true potential for some years.

This year the father of two is not making predictions of winning or of gaining any other specific place following last yearís disappointment. A physiologist talked him into having a positive outlook and he booked a limo in advance ready to whisk his wife and himself, whom he saw as world champion, out to celebrate. Unfortunately he found the champagne tasted a little sour after he finished only fifth.

Weiss, who was second in the 2004 Nationals, has a very patriotic free including, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and it remains to be seen how this will go down with an international audience, at a time when Americans have been told to keep a low profile abroad.

Weiss excused his short performance, in which he finished fourth in Atlanta, explaining, "Itís been a difficult couple of months with having flu and then walking pneumonia."

And what about Weir, the new U.S. champion, who is making his debut at Worlds? The 19 year old former world junior champion, who won both sections at nationals, must prove that his short program performance to Sibeliusí Valse Triste and the 6.0 he earned for his superb Dr. Zhivago free in Atlanta were not just a flashes in the pan.

On a press teleconference on March 11, Weir said he knows that he needs to do a quad-triple to get a medal but "I am not putting pressure on myself to be in the top three at Worlds.

"I am speaking knowing what is possible for myself. I know I can be in the top three if I land a quad and the international judges fall in love with me. I have not been in front of international (senior championship) judges before. As we all know, judges play favorites, so I want to impress them."

He will again employ the "vacation" approach that worked so well in Atlanta. He says it helps him dealing with nerves. "I will be going on a vacation to Germany and do a little skating. Iím very excited to show the world what Iím made of. I learned from my victory never to doubt myself."

He said he has been landing quad toe loops and quad Salchows in practice. "Iím training a lot harder and I have a sense of security. I will definitely try a quad in the qualifying round."

He has not watched tapes of rivals in competition. "I know whoís won - Plushenko, Sandhu and Joubert. I donít need to study their performances."

Last summer he trained with Tatiana Tarasova, alongside Sasha Cohen and the two became very friendly. Cohen was asked about this young man in a recent teleconference.

"Heís an amazingly gifted skater," Cohen explained, "Heís an extremely hard worker. When heís out on that ice, he doesnít stop. He trains and trains and trains. Heís got great jumping ability and I think heís very artistic. I think heís got an incredible future ahead of him. As a person, heís very loyal. Heís really there for you. Heís also got a great personality Ė a lot of fun to be with."

She was asked about his unusual viewpoints (i.e. the vacation image of competition). "I absolutely adore Johnny. He has some interesting quirky views but I think thatís a part of who he is. I think you could say that about anybody in figure skating. Weíre not the most normal group of people. Johnnyís got his own views and ideas and that makes him who he is."

The vacation strategy was devised by his coach, Priscilla Hill, in response to Weirís unfortunate experience in the 2003 Nationals when he had to withdraw during the free after placing second in the short. Hill, an extraordinary school figures exponent, had her own experiences of not performing the free to her full potential in competition which kept her from becoming the U.S. champion.

The third U.S. entry, 23 year old Matt Savoie from Peoria, Illinois, is taking part in his second world championships. He was 12th in 2002 but was plagued last year with tendonitis. The knee still hurts. "I'm paranoid about it, but I've learned the pain doesn't indicate further damage. I just have to live with it."

LADIES

If Michelle Kwan skates like she did in Atlanta winning her seventh consecutive and eighth overall U.S. National title, she surely can not be denied her sixth world championship gold in Dortmund.

Kwanís number of U.S. national titles is second only to Maribel Vinson Owenís nine. She is currently tied for the most number of world wins by an American woman with Carol Heiss. If she wins in Dortmund, the only woman to have more world titles will be Sonja Henie who won 1927-1936.

The one medal missing is Olympic gold. Kwan has said several times, "That one medal is not going to determine whether you have a good life or a bad life. I'm very happy with my longevity in skating. I feel that I've matured over the years. Some years were brighter than others, but I love that about it. In life in general, there are good moments and bad moments."

Kwan also stresses she isnít competing for a place in history. In a press teleconference on March 10, she said, "Iím trying to live in the present moment and just be excited.

"Sometimes my dad has to hit me over the head and say, ĎYouíre eight-time national champion. Most people would be happy with one.í Thatís when I kind of giggle. Thereís no way I can put that in perspective and I donít know if I ever will."

Kwan did show a sliver of vulnerability when she came second in the short in Atlanta behind Sasha Cohen, but none of her main rivals have proved they have Kwanís consistency.

Worlds is an endurance contest. With a qualifying round counting 20% towards the final placement, competitors must be "up" for three performances in four days. In Washington, D.C. that proved no problem for the then 22 year old Kwan.

Kwan indicated her determination to succeed when she took on in November Rafael Arutunian as her coach. He previously taught the Russian Alexander Abt. Spies have little to report, other than all appears to be going smoothly there.

"This season I wanted a change. Iíve known Rafael for a while. It wasnít like a huge adjustment." Although she trained near the Los Angeles Airport for the past two years, she was coached in Lake Arrowhead by Frank Carroll for almost a decade.

Working with Rafael (in Lake Arrowhead where her parents have a home) made me learn more about skating,'' she says, explaining heís emphasized the difference in technique between doing a solo triple jump and the same jump in a combination.

"We all have a different perspective on skating technique, and it helps to listen to coaches and the different ideas," she says. "Some days I am like, 'I think I have learned it all.' Then the next day you forget it or lose it.

"You're always adjusting. Your body changes, or your mental approach is not the same every day. That is sort of annoying, being an athlete, striving to be a perfectionist. It's like you're stepping on egg shells. You can't be a little off."

She spent last season in a low key relationship with Scott Williams whose position by mutual arrangement was more of a friend, advisor and confidante than a kick-butt task master.

Kwan claims, "The last two years, I've felt a different sort of feeling on the ice. It's more fun, I enjoy it.

"After Salt Lake City, I thought maybe it was time to hang up my skates but after awhile I thought, ĎThatís not really what I want to do.í Of course there are days Iím like, Oh! Iím in pain. It doesnít feel great to wake up and go to a cold ice rink. Then there are days you feel awake and alive and light and like a six year old. I donít think Iíve ever felt that lightness before. It might not be every day but itís sometimes."

She now competes only occasionally. This season she bypassed the Grand Prix circuit. Since the 2003 Worlds she has done only three made-for-television events (one last and two this season) and nationals.

In October, in the Campbells international in New York which she was not ready for, she lost for the first time ever to Sasha Cohen.

Kwan defends her light schedule. "I donít feel like I need to compete more than that. (The ISU) wanted me to commit to the Grand Prix events in the middle of summer. Itís hard to do that so far ahead.

"Right now, in my head, I already know how to compete. I know the drill. I know what to do in the six minute warm-up. The approach is the same. I didn't forget how to compete.

"You just can do it after so many years. You get nervous no matter what, and it's about being able to control it."

She does admit that if CoP is adopted she may have to do Grand Prix events to see how she stacks up in the new system.

Arutunian says that Kwan has the best work ethic heís seen in his nearly 28 of teaching. "You feel how strong she is inside. Sheís an amazing person and she knows what she wants. She is the best skater of the past 20 years."

Both Kwan and Cohen say they will not be attempting triple-triple combinations in Dortmund. Kwan says she must be careful and aware of her body to make sure she doesnít risk injury.

She watches tapes of her performances to analyze the technical aspects of what worked. "Itís like, ĎAaarh!í I have to close my eyes in some parts because I know how I felt during that part of the performance. I looked at some of the competitions where I did the triple-triple (Skate Canada 2001) just analyzing this bizarre girl like a scientist Ė the breakdown of every little millisecond. The pause button was definitely on.

"I could quit right now. I have that choice. I have a lot of options. I could walk away really content. But thereís something I really enjoy. Thatís the competition, trying to put everything together. I wish I could bottle up some of my performances, even the practice at Worlds or Nationals."

Is she worried about being defeated? "I don't see it as defeat if I don't win. My dad taught me not to regret anything."

Sheís definitely leaning towards continuing until the 2006 Olympics. "Itís tough to commit to anything like that but Iím definitely having fun competing. Why stop a good thing? Itís tough to find something more interesting and satisfying than skating. The excitement skating gives you is extreme. Itís so tempting."

Obviously, that is especially true when you are getting standing ovations and 6.0s. (The seven 6.0s Kwan received in Atlanta brought her total for nationals up to 35.)

"I want to try other things eventually but itís like chocolate. A chocolate is always good but itís always there."

Kwan has been keeping a very low profile Ė even her official fan clubís latest news is from back on January 14 when she attended a Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets game with her older brother and sister (Ron and Karen) and February 21 when she was at a Disneyland premier.

She refused an invitation to the Oscars, laughingly citing the fact she had no date. (Last summer she broke up with long time boyfriend hockey player Brad Ference.)

Told of the intense interest in her, Kwan always smiles. "It makes me wonder why the fans are interested in things like that. But I guess at one point, I was crazy about certain rock stars and certain athletes. I always wanted to check up on what theyíre doing. But I wouldnít be writing about it.

"My manager (Shep Goldberg) sometimes goes on the Web sites. Shepís like, ĎI know what you did today.í And Iím like, ĎWhat?í Who are these people writing it? I get suspicious about people sitting at the rink. Theyíre not parents. Theyíre not skaters. Itís like, ĎHmmh?!í"

In Dortmund, she will be wearing outfits designed by Vera Wang. "She understands skating because she used to skate when she was younger. Comfort is the main key here because youíre doing triples and spins. You canít have sequins flying off onto the ice. I move around and jump around when Iím in her studio and theyíre fixing me up."

And she will be wearing her usual necklace. Itís on a red string, not a gold chain. "Iíve had it for 12 years and Iíve never taken it off. I shower with it. But I got a new puppy (named Ginseng who is a mixture of Maltese and Poodle) and she chews on it. Every time I hold her, sheís gnawing on it. Iím like, ĎDonít you dare break that.í"

Her free program uses music from the Opera, Tosca, and her short is The Feeling Begins.

She also has a new interest Ė her niece, Olivia Colett Oppegard who was born on March 2 to her older sister, Karen, who is married to skating coach Peter Oppegard.

There are no medals in her own house in Los Angeles, although she knows where they are kept. "The memories are not from the medal itself. Itís the performance. Or a memory might come from a stuffed animal from the competition.

"My two Olympic medals (silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002) and one of my worlds medals are in a safe deposit box. At Nationals we also get huge silver platters. My parents usually keep them and display them in their house."

The Olympic silver medal winner, and 2002 world champion, Irina Slutskaya of Russia, will be back but donít expect too much from her.

Slutskaya did not defend her world title last year because her mother was seriously ill and is now on a kidney dialysis machine.

Then, after last springís Champions on Ice tour, she returned home with a persistent cough and a fever that came and went with no particular pattern.

From mid July until September 20, Slutskaya, who turned 25 in February and is married, was in and out of various hospitals in her hometown of Moscow. She had pneumonia, chronic asthmatic bronchitis, and an enlargement, an inflammation of the sac around her heart.

"It was scary when the doctors would talk so seriously and I did not know what they were talking about. They told me I must stay in the hospital and I would stand up on my bed and say, ĎI am okay. Iím going off to skate.í"

The doctors kept telling her it was serious. "I was crying for two days. I did not eat." She jokes about how she was a very poor patient, who kept pestering the doctors to let her go home. The other patients complained she had too much energy and was disturbing them by dashing around the ward and jumping on and off her bed.

She had to withdraw from all her assigned Grand Prix events and from the Russian championships.

She was devastated when she finally went back to training. "It felt like I had never skated before. I could barely walk after the first two practices. My muscles really hurt and my fingers and toes were swollen.

"I donít know what my future holds," said Slutskaya.

She surmounted one barrier on March 8 and 9 when she had to skate both her short and long before her Federation before they confirmed they would allow her to go to Worlds.

She made errors on both days and later told Russian journalists, "I was very nervous. Much more nervous than I expected."

That, and the fact that she made errors, was natural since she had last competed in December 2002 at the Grand Prix Final in St. Petersburg.

Sasha Cohen is convinced she knows what is in store for her. "My plan was to do a Tara Ė win gold at my first Olympics and move on. Itís just taking a little longer than expected."

She is very positive about the coaching change she made just a short time before Nationals. She is now working with Robin Wagner who guided Sarah Hughes to Olympic gold.

Before Worlds she was sequestered behind locked doors in Hackensack, New Jersey, practicing with Robin Wagner.

In a telephone press conference on March 10, Cohen said, "Robin listens, which is so important. Sheís really smart about her decisions. When we practice our run-throughs, thereís no holding back. Robin has me skating full out and really skating big all the way from my head to my fingers, to my whole body posture radiating out to the whole arena.

"I think it makes a big difference in my presentation. I put in the time every day. I'm working hard and I know I'm getting better. I'm not where I want to be yet but I'm getting there."

The 19 year old Cohen has been staying with Wagner and commuting home to Connecticut once a week. Eventually she plans to get a place of her own in Manhattan.

The photo on the home page of her official website www.SashaCohen.com was brilliantly conceived. It shows her in a black skating outfit cradling a large world globe in her arms with the dates of Dortmund superimposed.

"Weíve changed the long program (which is to ballet music from Swan Lake) by adding in some new cuts of music. The music in the beginning and the middle and the end is a little bit different. There are still a lot of the same pieces of music.

"Some of the order of the elements has been repositioned. I think it makes for a stronger, more dramatic program. It flows very nicely and weíre really happy with how it turned out.

"Weíre putting in a lot of work on speed and working on my strengths and flow consistency. Robin brings a really positive energy to every practice. She's really helped
me to work on the basics like stroking, control, positions and posture."

In Atlanta, Cohen skated a brilliant short to Malaguena, but fell on a triple toe loop in the free. Tatiana Tarasova, Cohenís previous coach, believed her mistakes, which resulted in Cohen placing fourth in the Olympics and at the past two world championships, resulted from her pupil thinking too much.

"Robin is teaching me to really use my edges and get more power from the ice. I can definitely tell when Iím using my edges more. Iím learning how to use edges in different ways and to get a lot of speed from different steps that Iíve never known you could get speed from.

"A lot of balance, control of edge work and power from the edges are where Iím re-educating myself. The intensity on ice has definitely been building since Nationals, and weíre starting to work more intensely on jumping and harder practices.

"It will continue to build until Worlds. We work a lot on double-triples and triple-doubles and your base technique. You donít do that many, but you just try to make sure you use the right technique and correct timing.

"When youíre doing triple-triples, youíre trying to achieve more flow, and you have to feel comfortable on your brand new blades to be able to do a triple for the first jump. For the first jump you need a lot of speed and a good landing to do the second triple for the combination.

"I've worked on them and they're fine in practice but I don't think it's something I'll be putting in my program at worlds. They're important and they're definitely going to be a big priority over the summer. But they're not at the point where we want to put them in the program.

"The more you can make muscle memory, the better. I think all the steps are muscle memory. You use thinking to just guide your body and reinforce what you have learned. A lot of the combinations come from muscle memory.

"But itís a split-second decision to know when to safely pull out of the second triple in combination. Sometimes you donít know until youíre at least in the air on the first jump. I think the second you hit the ice after the first triple you know whether youíve got the speed, if youíre forward or crooked."

Such knowledge is how gold is earned.

Cohen said her approach to Dortmund is simple. "My plan is to really attack and just skate full out, no holding back."

Her early Grand Prix events proved Cohen will be one of the stars of the CoP system. She said, "I do like the new system a lot so I wouldn't be too sad to see this one go. I like the fact that it rewards every aspect of a program, from the complexity of the choreography, connection of different moves, quality of jumping and doesn't forget about the spinning and spirals."

The world bronze medal winner for the past two years, Fumie Suguri of Japan beat Cohen and won the Grand Prix Final in December. However, a week later, back in Japan, she was dethroned in her national championships by Miki Ando, who landed a quad Salchow.

At the beginning of March, Ando won the World Junior Championship despite a bad fall on an under-rotated quad.

Ando may be hindered in Dortmund because she had to return to Japan with her coach instead of staying and training in Europe between the world junior and senior events, which means she will have to cope with a double dose of jet lag.

Suguri has the experience and is a very artistic skater. After one loss, she told reporters, "A swan doesnít mind what its ranking is." The technical director of the Japanese Federation was asked whether that reply came from pride. "No," replied the director. "She spoke from the heart. Thatís who Fumie is. Sheís a natural actress."

In addition to Ando, Suguri faces serious competition from another of her teammates, Shizuka Arakawa, who finished eighth at Worlds last year. Judging by her Grand Prix showings, Arakawa had obviously benefited from training alongside Jenny Kirk with Richard Callaghan in Michigan. However, she will now train with Tatiana Tarasova.

The negotiations to make the Tarasova-Arakawa partnership may have been the reason the young Russian, Andrei Griazev, had to win the world junior title without a coach at his side.

The Japanese Federation had hoped Callaghan would accept another Japanese pupil, Yoshie Onda (who finished 11th in the 2003 Worlds), to replace Arakawa but Callaghan, who trained Tara Lipinski to Olympic gold, sent a letter back explaining this is not the way business is conducted.

The 19 year old Kirk did incredibly well in the national championships considering how sick she was. If she can skate like that, when she felt so unwell, she could really make an impact at Worlds.

In Atlanta, she did a great routine in the short to Chicago but on the day of the long, for which she uses music from the operetta, Die Fleidermaus, she woke up and "felt like I had been hit by a bus."

She drew to skate right after Kwan, with teddy bears almost covering the ice and spectators cheering themselves hoarse. "My long program is not an experience that I ever hope to repeat but I got through it. The whole time I was thinking about not getting sick on the ice. Imagine how embarrassing that would be, throwing up live on national television. I was mad after that I fell on my triple Salchow. That was a stupid mistake after Iíd done all that hard stuff."

Kirk did throw up immediately after coming off the ice. "I donít even remember the medal ceremony or press conference because I was just trying to get through the night so I could get back to the hotel and rest. I was really sick when I got back to Michigan."

Kirk has been to one world championship in 2002, but was forced to withdraw with an injury while in Nagano.

Last yearís World silver medal winner, Elena Sokolova of Russia, has had a bad season. "I gained weight over the summer. I canít resist my momís cooking. In August, I skated into low boards in Italy and fell out of the rink back first and hurt my spine. Then during the Pro-Am competition in New York, I completely tore a groin ligament.

"I had laser surgery and I should have skipped Skate Canada." Skate Canada, where she finished ninth, was only a short time after the Campbellís International. "I did practically all the elements during a test skate in Moscow (before traveling to Mississauga) but I overestimated my abilities."

In the 2004 European championship, Sokolova was sixth in the short and second in the free to finish third overall. Julia Sebestyen won, becoming, in her hometown, Budapest, the first Hungarian ever to hold the title. Elena Liashenko of Ukraine was third. (Sebestyen was 14th in last yearís Worlds, while Liashenko was seventh.)

The 22 year old Sebestyen is a high, graceful jumper, but did not show the number of triples needed to win a world medal.

After the Russian number two and three skaters, Kristina Oblasova and Tamara Basova, did so poorly in the European championships (finishing 16th and 18th respectively), the Russian Federation decided to try to get Julia Soldatova entered for Dortmund.

Perhaps Cinquanta might have been more helpful about the Soldatova situation had Piseev not come out violently out against the adoption of CoP.

However Piseev was told by Ottavio Cinquanta at the World Junior Championships that no exceptions would be made to the rule that competitors must sit out two seasons if they wish to take part in an international championship for another country. Soldatova will become eligible to compete again for Russia on July 1, 2004. (For international competitions, as opposed to international championships, the wait is only one year.)

Soldatova initially competed for Russia where she was born and raised, but then changed to Belarus, she says under duress from her coach. She represented that country at the 2002 Olympics and Worlds. She says she never changed passports which raises the question as to whether she competed illegally for Belarus in the Olympics.

Piseev has changed his mind about Viktoria Volchkova, who was fifth at Worlds last year but skated very poorly in Russian nationals, which she attributed to a bad case of flu. Piseev was quoted in a Russian newspaper as saying that she was so bad, she should consider retirement.

Obviously the placements of his competitors in Budapest changed his opinion and Volchkova is on the Dortmund team.

Canada will be represented by Joannie Rochette, 18, and Jennifer Robinson, 27. Recently Robinson lost the Canadian Ladies title she had won six times (a record second only to that of Constance Samuel who won nine).

Both she and Rochette were beaten by Cynthia Phaneuf. It was decided to send the inexperienced 16 year old Phaneuf to Junior Worlds but confine her to a spectator seat at Senior Worlds.

That caused a great deal of controversy but it seems to have been the correct way to go. Phaneuf bombed in The Hague, falling in all three sections and finishing only tenth. Robinson and Rochette finished ninth and 17th at last yearís Worlds.

Continued next week in Part 2 covering pairs and dance.

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(7 March 2004, 14 March 2004)