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  • Thursday, March 30, 2000

    Flash fall: A horror revisited

    Sargeant, Wirtz stagger to 10th haunted by memory of own tragedy

    By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

     NICE, France - When Yulia Obertas dropped from the sky on her partner's head, driving it into the ice, it was over.

     It might as well have been Kris Wirtz's head that hit the ice.

     White as the ice after the Ukrainian pairs team crashed on a lift, the Canadian pair of Kristy Sargeant and her skating husband Wirtz were left so stunned by what happened they skated almost as if in a trance here last night.

     Stopping 30 seconds into their program because they knew they were skating like zombies, a rude Russian referee had absolutely no sympathy and gave them two choices. Pick it up and continue. Or withdraw.

     "They should have withdrawn,'' said coach Paul Wirtz, brother of the shaken skater who suffered a similar crash at Canadians in Ottawa in 1996.

     Wirtz, who broke down and cried before he could answer questions from rights-holding CTV television, didn't stop to talk to the rest of the media.

     Sargeant, the Alix native out of Edmonton's Royal Glenora Club, was the team spokesman.

     "We just couldn't do it. We were forced to start. We just weren't there. Everything was spinning around. We had no legs. We had to stop. We would have hurt ourselves,'' she said.

     "It really shook him up. He's fallen on his head. It's scarier than even doing it yourself.''

     LOST HIS FOOTING

     With Obertas high over the head of Dmitri Palamarchuk late in the program of the Ukrainian pair, Palamarchuk lost his footing on the poor Palais des Exhibition ice.

     With Palamarchuk collapsing, Obertas fell on top of him. His head hit the ice. And he clearly suffered a concussion.

     The skater laid motionless on the ice for several seconds with his partner frozen on her feet a few feet away.

     Coming around when medical people arrived on the ice to come to his aid, he was taken off the ice on a stretcher. Immediately after being taken off the ice he fainted and lost consciousness for five minutes.

     "Kristy saw the lift come down,'' said Paul Wirtz. "She was the first to know.

     "If Kristy sees a lift go down at practice, she leaves the ice. For her to see that lift come down ... It just brought back all their hardships of the past. Kristy just shook.''

     The Canadians were scheduled to skate next. As soon as Palamarchuk was removed from the ice, but lying on the carpet beside the gate to the ice, the shaken Canadian pair were told they had one minute.

     "Kristy said, 'I won't go out there and see that.' They said, `You have to go on.' Everybody was panicking. When he finally did come off, his arms and legs were hanging over the side.

     "As soon as Kris and Kristy stepped on the ice, you could see it. Their timing was just awful,'' continued the coach.

     After she doubled and he tripled side-by-side toe loops the two did an incomplete triple twist and he stopped the program. The Canadians wanted time to recover. The referee, Alexander Lakernik of Russia, said sorry.

     "He told Kris, 'There's nothing I can do. Pick it up or withdraw.' He said it very rudely. There was no compassion. He didn't want to know anything about it.''

     Picking up where they left off, it was Wirtz more so than Sargeant who was left going through the motions.

     IN HOSPITAL ALL NIGHT

     His brother said he couldn't help but be thinking about when it happened to him.

     "He was in hospital all night. Kristy stayed with him, waking him up every hour. They managed to get to the rink the following day and compete,'' he recalled of the accident which happened at practice.

     During their skate a fire alarm in the arena went off.

     "They've dealt with it,'' said their coach.

     The two ended up getting 4.7 to 5.1 marks on the technical line and 4.9 to 5.4 marks on the artistic line. It was good enough for the Canadian pair, who twice finished sixth and twice finished seventh at previous Worlds, to finish 10th.

     Because of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier finishing fourth, Canada will only have two pairs teams at Worlds next year in Vancouver. If either team had finished one position higher, Canada would have had three.

     "It's too bad,'' said their coach. "This was supposed to be their swansong. This is not the way they wanted to go out.''



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