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  • Saturday, April 1, 2000

    Michelle Kwan's latest victory has major Canadian content

    By NEIL STEVENS --Canadian Press
     NICE, France -- When American teenager Michelle Kwan won the world figure skating championship for the third time Saturday, a woman sitting at home in Stouffville, Ont., was credited with making a huge contribution to the triumph.
     
     Lori Nichol is Kwan's choreographer.
     
     "She has been a tremendous influence on Michelle," said coach Frank Carroll. "She is a real confidante of Michelle's.
     
     "She is a tremendous talent, a genius as far as movement is concerned. She is probably the greatest, or one of the greatest, at what she does in the world."
     
     Irina Slutskaya finished second and fellow-Russian Maria Butyrskaya, who edged Kwan last year, was third this time.
     
     Jennifer Robinson of Windsor, Ont., finished eighth overall with the sixth-best long program. She was 18th last year, and by zooming upwards she earned Canada a second entry in the event at the 2001 worlds in Vancouver.
     
     Nichol choreographed Robinson's four-minute routine, too, and she was also instrumental in the successful season of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who finished fourth in pairs in their first world meet on Canada's team.
     
     Nichol chose music from the soundtrack to the motion picture The Red Violin, directed by Francois Girard of St-Felicien, Que., for the difficult free-skating program that returned Kwan, 19, to the top of the podium.
     
     "It is a very difficult program," Carroll said of Nichol's choreography. "Many people suggested we give it up.
     
     "The music is dark and dramatic. If you don't do that program perfectly, it leaves you with the feeling something is wrong. When you do it perfectly, it is a fabulous program."
     
     Kwan did it perfectly.
     
     "I felt really strong out there," she said. "I felt really comfortable and really ready to do it.
     
     "We had really focused on making my programs more difficult this season, and this is the first competition I ever went out onto the ice and pushed and pushed for the whole four minutes. I've never felt so fast.
     
     "There are times when you think, 'Well, I better save some energy.' But I said, 'No, keep pushing."'
     
     She was the only woman to land a triple toe-triple toe jump combination, and that carried a lot of weight with the judges.
     
     Kwan had been third, with Butyrskaya leading and Slutskaya second, after the short program Friday. Kwan needed something to leap-frog over the leaders, and the triple-triple alongside Nichol's superb choreography was what made it happen. Slutskaya had won the Grand Prix final by landing a triple-triple, but she couldn't repeat the feat Saturday. And Butyrskaya blew her combo and singled out on a triple Salchow.
     
     "Maria is a beautiful, beautiful skater, but she also kind of chokes sometimes," said Carroll.
     
     Tears of joy ran down Kwan's cheeks as the U.S. anthem was played.
     
     "This is the most satisfying championship for me because there was a lot of pressure on me to up the ante" in technical difficulty, she said.
     
     Satisfying, too, because she's carrying a full course load at UCLA while competing at the highest level of her sport.
     
     "I hope she doesn't try to do both during the Olympic year," Carroll offered.
     
     Yet, he said, "I don't think she's tapped everything she's capable of doing."
     
     She began her season by winning at Skate Canada in Saint John, N.B., last November. A no-nonsense, six-week practice regimen after the U.S. nationals had her primed. She wears less makeup and carries more muscle.
     
     "She's learned you can't hold back anything in this sport and expect to win," said Carroll. "She's wearing comfortable kind of jock clothes and her attitude is more aggressive.
     
     "She's not so concerned about looking like a princess out there anymore because she knows it's not going to get her anything."
     
     But she is concerned, in a way, about winning the championship only in even years -- 1996 in Edmonton, 1998 in Minneapolis and 2000 in Nice.
     
     "What happened to the odd years?" she jokingly asked.
     
     



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