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    Thursday, January 15, 1998

    Canuck skaters bag more gold

      Canadian speedskaters Jeremy Wotherspoon and Catriona Le May Doan swept three of four World Cup races yesterday in Baselga Di Pine, Italy, consolidating their positions atop the World Cup standings.
     Wotherspoon, from Red Deer, Alta., completed the 500-metre circuit in 36.34 seconds, breaking the track record, and adding to his second-place finish in the 500 metres on Tuesday.
      Kuroiwa Toshiyuki of Japan finished second, followed by Ermanno Ioriatti of Italy.
     Wotherspoon also won the 1,000 metres for a second straight day, followed by Jan Bos of the Netherlands.
     Le May Doan won her second 500 metres in as many days and her fourth straight in 38.83, followed by Winnipeg's Susan Auch at 38.90, whom Doan was paired with in the final.
     "I didn't panic in the last 100 when Susan came out ahead of me," said Le May Doan, who leads Auch 295 to 240 in the World Cup 500 standings.
     Wotherspoon leads the World Cup standings in the 500- and 1,000-metre events. Doan leads the 500 metres and is second in the 1,000-metre standings.
     RUSSIANS RULE: Russia's replacements for its top injured men sparkled at the European figure skating championships yesterday in Milan, Italy, with Alexei Yagudin leading a 1-2-3 sweep in the short program.
     Yagudin earned mostly 5.8s and 5.9s out of 6 for a technically superb but relatively staid performance to Russian gypsy music. Alexander Abt - at his first major event, as a late substitute for injured 1995 champion Ilia Kulik - was second, followed by Yevgeny Plushenko.
     "I felt very confident today," said Yagudin, the veteran of his squad at age 17. "It didn't matter to me that I was the last one to skate. I do strong, difficult elements, and it was clean."
     France's Philippe Candeloro, 1994 Olympic bronze medalist and among the favorites, was ninth of 30 skaters after trouble with his closing double Axel.
     Reigning Olympic and European champion Alexei Urmanov, sidelined since the March world championships with a groin injury, is not competing.
     His absence - along with that of Kulik - paved the way for Abt and Plushenko to join the Russian team.
     Yagudin said he was "99% sure" he and Kulik would get the country's two Olympic berths, to be determined after the Europeans. Russia lost its third spot because Urmanov pulled out after the short program at the worlds.
     Last night, Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze captured the pairs gold.
     HOLD IT HIGH: Olympic organizers think they know why the flame being carried to the Winter Games keeps going out - fatigued runners are tilting the torch and blocking the flow of fuel.
     Tests show the torch must be carried upright, Norihiko Iijima, a spokesman for the Nagano Olympic Organizing Committee, said yesterday.
     In four of eight times that the torch has gone out since the relay began Jan. 6, weary runners couldn't hold the three-pound torch straight, snuffing out the flame.
     The suggestion to torch-bearers: If your arm gets tired, switch hands.
     Another torch failure, in the northern city of Aomori, was caused by strong winds.