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  • Wednesday, March 29, 2000

    Injured French skater wins bronze

     NICE, France (AP) -- Overcoming the shock of a razor attack, France's Stephane Bernadis and Sarah Abitbol won the bronze Wednesday at the World Figure Skating Championships, where Michelle Kwan struggled on her jumps and finished second in qualifying.
     
     Bernadis, given a pain reliever before he skated, showed no obvious difficulty from the eight-inch cut down his left forearm inflicted a day earlier by an unknown assailant.
     
     The French couple's medal brought to a grateful close a star-crossed pairs competition that started with the defending champions' forced doping withdrawal.
     
     The problem-plagued championships finally focused purely on sport, with Kwan holding back on a triple-triple combination. She wound up behind her main rival, Irina Slutskaya, in their qualifying group.
     
     "I was a little upset with myself," Kwan said. "I did it so well in practice, and came here and popped out."
     
     Both she and Slutskaya performed six triple jumps, and neither fell. But after Kwan's rather flat program to "Red Violin," and scaled down triple-double and double salchow, Slutskaya didn't even bother to put in either of her triple jump combinations.
     
     No one could afford to hold back too much -- not with top contenders Kwan and Slutskaya skating back-to-back in the talent-packed first group. Though she admitted being driven by the rivalry, Kwan tried to play it down.
     
     "As I've always said, when you're out there it's just you and a big ice surface," Kwan said. "It does help knowing I've got to be my best. You can only think of yourself."
     
     Americans Sarah Hughes and Angela Nikodinov finished third and fifth, respectively, in the Kwan-Slutskaya group.
     
     Defending champion Maria Butyrskaya easily led the second qualifying group with six triples, but she put her hand down on a double axel.
     
     The uneventful women's qualifying round was a welcome, if brief, respite from the off-ice intrigue and distractions that have overshadowed the pairs event.
     
     Backed by a raucous French crowd, the pair had just one mistake: Abitbol two-footed a triple throw landing when Bernadis' grip was slightly off. He emphasized it was his hand -- not arm -- that missed the mark.
     
     The pairs title went to Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, who skated nearly perfectly to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" -- except his double toe-loop when she tripled. China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongvo finished second, losing their lead after the short with four costly errors in the free.
     
     Yet to simply rattle off the rankings is to miss the psychological impact of the bizarre and unsettling events of the pairs competition.
     
     "It was more pressure than usual," Tikhonov said. "When you skate, you usually are just in your own world. It was very different this time, because I worried about our team friends and what happened with Stephane."
     
     Skaters did their best to cocoon themselves early in the competition against the sudden withdrawal Sunday of two pairs, including defending champions Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. In both cases, skaters said the stimulants were contained in medicines.
     
     Competitors comforted themselves with increased security after Bernadis reported that a male assailant wielding a razor had slashed his forearm at the skaters' hotel Tuesday.
     
     But then, Ukrainian skater Dmitri Palamarchuk fell and banged his head on the ice when his right blade appeared to catch the ice during a lift. His partner, Julia Obertas, was uninjured.
     
     Palamarchuk managed to get up and off the ice on his own, but then lost consciousness at the skaters' entrance for about five minutes. An X-ray and scan at a hospital showed no damage, but he was kept overnight for observation.
     
     The fall unsettled Canadians Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz, who were next on the ice. They broke off their program after the second element, a double twist that they singled, but continued unenthusiastically when the referee told them it was that or withdraw. They finished 10th.
     
     Even China's Zhao said the Ukrainian's fall affected his skating. "I was a bit frightened when I did the lift. So I did it very, very carefully."
     
     Both American pairs finished in the top 10. Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman, who train in New Jersey with Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, had problems with their jumps and came in seventh, while Tiffany Scott and Phillip Dulebohn, who train in Delaware, were ninth



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