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  • Friday, March 31, 2000

    Butyrskaya in first place, Robinson 11th

    By NEIL STEVENS -- The Canadian Press

     NICE, France (CP) -- Maria Butyrskaya cut two fingers on her left hand wiping off a skate blade seconds before competing at the world figure skating championships Friday.

     No big deal.

     The reigning champion from Russia refused to be distracted and produced the best short program after wiping off the blood.

     It has taken a lot to shock Butyrskaya since her new BMW was torched in front of her Moscow apartment during the Russian nationals Dec. 23. And having her Russian and European titles taken away from her by compatriot Irina Slutskaya has only strengthened the 27-year-old skater's resolve to retain the world crown.

     "Maria came to this competition in her top form," coach Elena Tchaikovskaya said through an interpreter, taking Butyrskaya's place at a news conference because her skater was having the minor cuts treated.

     Two-time world champion Michelle Kwan of the United States is in third place going into the free-skating program today.

     Jennifer Robinson of Windsor, Ont., is in 11th place.

     Butyrskaya flirted with greatness, finishing fourth in 1996, fifth in 1997, and third in 1998, before achieving stardom last year in Helsinki.

     "In Helsinki, she told me, 'Well, finally, I know I can be first,"' said Tchaikovskaya.

     Many observers predicted on the basis of the season's results that there would be a Slutskaya-Kwan battle for gold this week.

     "Everyone thought this except for us," said Tchaikovskaya.

     Nobody has been identified as the culprit who destroyed the sports car owned by the bleached-blonde, pool-playing livewire who was kicked out of her first skating club because her coach at the time decided she was going nowhere. Did she show them.

     Kwan was content with third.

     "It's really not a surprise after seeing the other skaters," she said. "Maria and Irina skated well and I'm just glad to be in the top three."

     She barely held on to the landing of her triple flip.

     "You can't even open the tiniest door or skaters as good as Maria and Irina will take advantage of it and that's what they did today," said coach Frank Carroll.

     Kwan said that combining world-class skating with full-time UCLA studies was difficult to cope with at first, but she's adapted.

     "As I got more into my year, I was able to balance things better and my skating improved," she said.

     Robinson set a goal of a top-12 finish, and it appears as if she'll reach it. She was 18th last year, so it'll be a jump up the ladder that will give her career a big boost.

     She attributes here improvement this season to maturity. She's 23 and at her fourth world meet.

     "I know now that whatever happens in practice doesn't mean that that is what is going to happen in the performance," she explained. "If I miss one thing (in practice), I know to go for it in the event and to rely on my automatic pilot, so to speak, to let it happen.

     "Plus I bought some furniture that I need to pay off. I'm look for some prize money. I got a new mattress. My old one was giving me neck cramps."

     Robinson is on the verge of posting the best Canadian finish in the women's event since Josee Chouinard of Laval, Que., was fifth at the 1994 worlds in Chiba, Japan. Canada's last medal was in 1988 in Budapest, where Liz Manley won silver.



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