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  • Sunday, March 21, 1999

    It figures: Kwan's ready for worlds

     HELSINKI, Finland (AP) -- While those around her stumbled, Michelle Kwan hit jump after jump with barely a miss.
     She practiced Sunday with some of her major rivals at the world championships. And this much is clear: Kwan is ready.
     The competition begins Monday with the men's qualifying group and the pairs short programs.
     Three Russians -- Alexei Yagudin, Yevgeny Plushenko and Alexei Urmanov -- will vie for the men's title, with three-time world champion Elvis Stojko in the role of potential spoiler.
     Yet Kwan is the most luminous star of these championships. She has won the world title twice and is the only singles Olympic medalist competing in Helsinki.
     Tara Lipinski, who took the Olympic gold and bronze medalist Chen Lu have gone pro.
     Kwan chose to stay eligible for the next Olympics although this is her only major International Skating Union competition of the season. She bypassed the Grand Prix schedule to concentrate on shows and TV.
     But when it counted, she performed like a champion, easily winning the U.S. championship last month.
     On Sunday, she showed off her moves in practice with a group that included Tatiana Malinina of Uzbekistan and two Ukraine skaters who won European medals in the past, Elena Liashenko and Julia Lawrenchuk.
     Malinina was the surprise winner at the Grand Prix final two weeks ago but lacks the choreographic poise that Kwan exhibits every time she is on the ice. Kwan was secure in all her jumps, including a triple-triple combination.
     The other U.S. skaters, Sarah Hughes and Angela Nikodinov, were also practicing. Nikodinov is coached by Richard Callaghan in a brief arrangement that ended after the U.S. nationals, where she finished third.
     Callaghan, who coached Lipinski to the gold medal at the Olympics, will retire this spring after 27 years in coaching. He resigned as director of skating at the Detroit Skating Club earlier this week.
     The women begin their skating Wednesday with the qualification round that will cut the field from 42 to 30 skaters.
     The men's qualifying counts for 20 percent of the total score this year.
     The Russian trio of Yagudin, Plushenko and Urmanov are set to challenge each other again as they have throughout the season.
     Yagudin is the current world and two-time European champion. Plushenko is the Russian champion and Urmanov won the Cup of Russia on the home rink of all three.
     Stojko is the unknown factor. He has competed sporadically since tearing a groin muscle at the Nagano Olympics 13 months ago. And he has not done well, barely winning the Canadian title and coming in third at the Four Continents competition.
     "At no time was my leg ever 100 percent until the last week or so," Stojko said. "I don't feel any pain, It's as good as new."
     Then he issued a warning.
     "A lot of power has come back into my jumps now," he said. That could turn into a routine with two quadruple jumps, including the quadruple-triple combination.
     The top American, Michael Weiss, has an outside shot at a medal, especially if he completes a quad, as he has been attempting the past two years.
     The other Americans, Trifan Zivanovic and Tim Goebel, are relative newcomers.
     The pairs events begins Monday evening with the short program, worth one-third the score.
     Defending champions Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were considered favorites until recently. They had to withdraw from the European championships just before the free skate and she stumbled numerous times at the Grand Prix final. Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo beat them at Grand Prix finals and are Four Contintents champs.

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