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  • Sunday, March 21, 1999

    Sargeant and Wirtz take another run at top five

    By NEIL STEVENS -- Canadian Press
     HELSINKI -- It has been five long years since Canadian figure skaters last stood on a world pairs podium, and Kris Wirtz remembers that day well.
     Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler won silver medals in Chiba, Japan, running their medals streak to five years, and Wirtz and Kristy Sargeant watched the presentations after finishing 11th in their worlds debut.
     "They were good team players so whenever they won you won," Wirtz recalled after practice Sunday. "Looking at those medals, it was motivation for everybody."
     It would mean so much to the reigning Canadian champions to end the drought, although they must be considered longshot medal contenders after slipping from sixth in 1997 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to seventh in 1998 in Minneapolis. But they have learned their lessons well, beginning with what they saw in Brasseur and Eisler.
     "They worked really hard," said Wirtz, who is the captain of Canada's 11-skater team. "They had a great career.
     "What they did gave everybody hope that if you work hard enough and do the right things at the right time there's a chance you could be on the podium some day."
     Competition begins today with qualifying in men's singles and with the pairs short program.
     Sargeant, 25, of Alix, Alta., and Wirtz, 29, of Marathon, Ont., choreographed their 2 1/2-minute short program to a Tchaikovsky violin concerto this season. The key technical elements will be a throw triple Salchow and side-by-side triple solo jumps. Complete both successfully and a top-five placing is a real possibility.
     A miss on either washes that hope down the drain.
     "Kristy and I have put in a lot of years and a lot of time on unison and correct pairs skating and things like that," said Wirtz. "If we have two great performances, I have no doubt in my mind, no doubt in my mind" a top-five result will occur.
     They are concentrating, however, on producing two clean performances rather than on worrying about a particular place in the final standings.
     "I've been everywhere in this damn event," said Wirtz. "I've been fifth in the short, sixth, seventh, eighth, 10th . . . At this point, who gives a rat's petunia?
     "I don't. I've accomplished more than I ever thought I would, and there is only one thing more for me to accomplish, and that is a higher ranking. But if I think of that, the pressures that will surmount upon my shoulders will be ridiculous.
     "It's skating, man, anything can happen. We've all seen it. We've all seen Elvis (Stojko) skate great. We've all seen Elvis miss, and that's hard -- to think of Elvis Stojko missing anything. Krissy missing a throw. Kurt Browning missing a double Axel at the Olympics. All these things are basics for these people. But the pressure of competition and the importance you put on it sometimes can hurt you.
     "The best way to approach it is as just another day. It's hard to say that. It's really hard because you know the cards are being played, but you have to think of it that way. If you don't, then you'll crack."
     At their first world meet are Valerie Saurette, 23, of Granby, Que., and Jean-Sebastien Fecteau, 23, of Thetford Mines, Que. They are capable of a top-10 placing among the 21 pairs if they skate well. Their triple-toe loop solo jumps will be critical.
     "If we nail that, the rest will go (OK)," said Saurette.
     They are replacing Jamie Sale of Red Deer, Alta., and David Pelletier of Sayabec, Que., who were runners-up to Sargeant and Wirtz at the Canadian championships in Ottawa in January but relinquished the trip to Finland when Pelletier was unable to overcome a back injury.
     "At first, it was hard," Saurette said of just missing out on second place at the nationals. "I felt I wasn't good enough to be world level.
     "Getting to come here, we feel better now."
     With each practice, they feel more and more as if they really do belong.
     "Actually, the most stressful competition for us this season was our nationals," Saurette said in explaining her sense of calm on the eve of the biggest challenge of her skating career. "This year is a big year for us with the Grand Prix events and Four Continents and now worlds.
     "The more I do, I'm getting more used to it. I'm less nervous. At our first Grand Prix meet (in Germany last autumn) I was more nervous than here."
     Fecteau hurt his back during nationals, but says he's fine now.
     The defending pairs champions are Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia. Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao edged them at the Grand Prix final in St. Petersburg, Russia, two weeks ago and will try to do the same here to become the first Chinese to win a world pairs title.


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