New challenege for Kwan at Worlds
Posted: Friday March 11, 2005 12:24AM; Updated: Friday March 11, 2005 12:24AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Michelle Kwan, with five world championships and nine U.S. titles, will have a new challenge at this year's World Figure Skating Championships. She'll encounter the sport's new scoring system for the first time.
After more than a century, the world championships return to Russia beginning Monday in Moscow. Appropriately, Russians are favorites in all four events, although half of those skaters train in the United States.
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Kwan won world titles in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003 under the old 6.0 system. The new scoring system will make its debut at worlds after the International Skating Union adopted it last June in reaction to the pairs scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Kwan has avoided the Grand Prix series the past two years, missing the trial events for the new system that measures jumps, spins and stepwork, as well as artistic elements such as interpretation and choreography.
She says she will be ready.
"There's a lot of things I have to be very aware of, with the spins, with the change of edge, with the turns in the footwork," Kwan said in Portland, Ore., after her ninth U.S. victory and eighth in a row.
The European championships became the first international competition outside the Grand Prix series to use the new system, in January at Turin, Italy, site of next year's Olympics.
Those Olympics already are on the minds of many skaters, with jockeying for the inside track for the 2006 Games starting in Moscow -- especially among the women, where three former or current world champions will compete.
In addition to Kwan there is Russia's Irina Slutskaya. The 2002 world champion and Olympic silver medalist continues her comeback after inflammation of the heart lining limited her last season to the world championships in Germany, where she finished ninth.
This year is another story. She is unbeaten in six major competitions, including a victory over Kwan in an invitational. She and Kwan have been competing against each other since December 1993 at the world juniors in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I remember the first time I came to the States," Slutskaya recalled. "I saw the girl. I said 'Oh, this girl is really good.'
"I tried to talk to her. She was surprised because I had black skates. She looked at me and said 'Wow, you have black skates, how do you skate?' It was really funny."
Slutskaya has beaten Kwan nine times since 2000, although Kwan usually prevails in world championships.
Kwan, however, didn't win in Dortmund last year. That world title went to Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, whose combination jumps score heavily in the new system.
Kwan didn't even take second, beaten by the talented but enigmatic American Sasha Cohen.
This year's qualifying round for women, on Wednesday, has Kwan, Slutskaya and Arakawa in the same group based on last year's placements. It also counts for 25 percent of the total mark.
Kwan will miss the old system.
"I'm going to be sad when the 6.0 system goes. I'm very sentimental about that," Kwan said.
She had 57 6.0s in major championships, including six at the last worlds and the last ever given out -- since she was the final skater in the competition.
Slutskaya won the European title this year for the sixth time _ only greats Katarina Witt and Sonia Henie also had at least six. But Slutskaya's skate in Turin was lackluster. She said an increase in medication may have affected her skating.
Another winner in Turin was Evgeni Plushenko, who is looking for his fourth world title. Plushenko, also a Russian, has complained about being weary of top-level competition.
"I am tired this year because I have had a lot of competitions. For 10 years I have skated in a lot of competitions," he said.
Still, he wins; he's also unbeaten this season, including an unwanted trip to Beijing for the Grand Prix Finals.
He was pressured into competing by the ISU after finishing the series as just an alternate. When two-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir had to withdraw with a foot injury, Plushenko was called.
Weir is coming on this year. He won his second American title and two Grand Prix meets without a quad. He relies on artistry, which also counts in the new system.
But he still easily was beaten by Plushenko at the Cup of Russia in their only encounter, Weir's only defeat this season.
"A quad is a very big part of men's skating today and I do realize I need one. I will put one in when I'm ready to," Weir said.
Frenchman Brian Joubert, who beat Plushenko for the 2004 European title and finished second to Plushenko at that event this year, is also a factor but has had coaching problems.
So has Tim Goebel. The American won the Olympic bronze medal in 2002 and two world silver medals in 2003, but had to take off 2004 because of boot problems. He switched coaches from Frank Carroll to Audrey Weisiger.
The pairs event also features a skater coming back from injury.
Tatiana Totmianina crashed to the ice and was knocked unconscious at Skate America in Pittsburgh in October when partner Maxim Marinin lost his balance on a lift. In a hospital for a few days with a concussion and bruises, she was back on the ice practicing two weeks later in Chicago, where they train.
She still refuses to look at tapes of the accident. And they came back to win the European title in nearly flawless fashion.
They won the world title last year when favored Chinese Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo were not in contention after the short program. Although the Chinese won the free program brilliantly, the Russians took the title.
Despite their high-flying throws and acrobatics, the Chinese clearly are not invincible. Totmianina and Marinin have beaten them three of the last four times.
Three Russian and three Chinese pairs will probably take the top six spots.
Russians also lead in the ice dance, although -- surprise -- there is a chance for an American medal, the first in that event in 20 years.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto were second to world champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov at the Grand Prix Finals. Navka and Kostomarov, who train in Montclair, N.J., were beaten early in the season, but have not lost since.
The last time the world competition was held in Russia was in 1903. The closest it had gotten to Russia since then was in 1999 at Helsinki, Finland, where the Russians took all four world titles.
Russians could pick up all four world championships again this year. In fact, Russia has taken 24 of 48 world titles since its return as a separate country in 1993.
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