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  • Wednesday, March 29, 2000

    Sale and Pelletier miss out on medal

     NICE, France (CP) -- Canada will be shut out of the world figure skating championship medals for the first time since 1981, unless Elvis Stojko wins one today.

     This was the stark reality facing the country's 11-member team after Jamie Sale of Red Deer, Alta., and David Pelletier of Sayabec, Que., let what looked like a sure one slip through their fingers in the pairs free-skating final Wednesday.

     A truly bizarre day in the annals of the sport began with Jennifer Robinson of Windsor, Ont., advancing in women's singles by placing sixth in her qualifying group, which puts her in a tie for 11th. A wildly positive result for her, but no medal chance there.

     It ended with Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov of Russia winning pairs gold. Sale and Pelletier had been third going in, and when the others all made mistakes, the door was open for the Canadian champions to step to the top of the podium. But Sale had a bad landing on her first solo jump and popped out of two others. The medals were gone.

     "Before going out there, I felt really good, I was confident," said Sale, who wept while standing facing a curtain for several minutes after leaving the kiss-and-cry area. "But it just wasn't my day. It's disheartening."

     Ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon are in 10th place going into their original dance competition today. No medal there.

     Enter Stojko. He's sitting fourth in men's singles going into his free-skating final. It's Canada's last chance for a medal this year.

     The pairs event was a soap opera from the start, when defending champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia were disqualified on the eve of the competition after Berezhnaya failed a doping test.

     On Tuesday, French skater Stephane Bernadis claimed he was slashed on the left arm with a razor by an unknown assailant in his hotel. Cynics among the media suggested it was a desperate bid for a sympathy vote from the judging panel.

     Mid-way through the free skate Wednesday, Ukrainian Dmitri Palamarchuk suffered a concussion when he and partner Julia Obertas took a terrible tumble. He fainted after being led off the ice. He was admitted to hospital for observation. X-rays were encouraging. He was to be released today.

     Kristy Sargeant of Alix, Alta., and Kris Wirtz of Marathon, Ont., were next up, and so rattled by having Palamarchuk carried past them on a stretcher on their way to the ice that Wirtz stopped skating 40 seconds into their program -- during a lift similar to the one on which the Ukrainians crashed. They restarted, and gutted it out to finish 10th overall.

     "It really shook him up," Sargeant said of her husband's reaction to the Ukrainians' fall.

     Wirtz, for one time in his life, was unable to talk to reporters. He left the rink in a daze.

     "This was to be their swansong," lamented coach Paul Wirtz, the skater's brother. "Nobody would want to go out this way."

     The leaders would all make significant errors.

     Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China had been leading going in, but had to settle for the silver medals in the end.

     Petrova and Tikhonov were passable, which turned out to be good enough.

     Bernadis showed no signs of the physical impediment from the supposed arm injury. Hot dogging it to the crowd, he even brushed a hand below his eyes as if wiping away tears, when there were none. He and Abitbol had moved into contention from fourth place.

     Sale and Pelletier skated last. The door to the top was wide open.

     "I knew that," said Pelletier.

     Third going in, they could win gold by skating cleanly. But the door slammed shut when Sale stepped out of her triple toe loop solo jump after two revolutions, then singled two scheduled double Axels.

     It was a muddled mess. Seven judges preferred the Russians, Canadian judge Susan Blatz went with the Chinese, and Sale and Pelletier were considered winners by only American Joe Inman.

     Pelletier tried his best to stay positive afterwards.

     "One of our goals was to make top five and we didn't do it the way we wanted to do it but I'm going home with my head held high," he said. "We're fourth in the world at our first worlds. We're proud of that.

     "It's sad, the way a good season ended. But it's what we do with this (experience) now that counts. I'll have a smile on my face (today) because I'll be going to the beach."

     He'd promised to treat the press corps to beers if he and Sale won a medal.

     "I guess I just saved myself $200," he said with a grin.

     They'll go on. No reason not to.

     "I never enjoyed skating as much in my life," Pelletier said of the outstanding season they had -- before Wednesday. "Everything happens for a reason.

     "Maybe we're not ready for a medal yet."

     Coach Richard Gauthier knew exactly what happened.

     "The first jump threw Jamie out of her concentration," he said. "She hadn't missed that jump all year. She was shocked because it hadn't happened before.

     "Then she doubted herself on her other jumps."

     Canada's loss was France's gain.

     "What happened (Tuesday) put an enormous pressure on us," said Abitbol. "We were very nervous during the lifts. The audience helped us a lot."

     And off that endless assembly line in Russia rolls another championship pairs team.

     "I'm not satisfied with myself," said Tikhonov. "I did only a double toe in the combination with my double Axel, while Masha did a triple one. I'm upset about that."

     Not nearly as upset as Sale.



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