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  • Monday, March 22, 1999

    Sargeant and Wirtz in fourth place

     HELSINKI (CP) -- Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz have put themselves in position to challenge for pairs medals at the world figure skating championships.
     Canada's champions finished seventh overall last year, and they had aimed for a top-five finish this time. Now, after grabbing fourth spot in the short program Monday, medals might be available to them in the free-skating final Wednesday if they can reproduce this level of performance.
     They nailed all the required elements in the 2 1/2-minute short. Their side-by-side solo jumps were perfect. A huge smile broke across Sargeant's face when she landed solidly after spinning three times in the air after being thrown by Wirtz.
     "After that, it's done, so I mean from there on you just coast," Sargeant said.
     As they awaited their marks, Wirtz dabbed a tissue on a scratch on his chin caused when beads on the chest of Sargeant's outfit scraped him during a lift in the warmup.
     "It's his baby face," Sargeant teased.
     Defending champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia were first, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China were second, and Dorota Zagorska and Mariusz Siudek of Poland were third.
     Valerie Saurette and Jean-Sebastien Fecteau, Canada's other entry, were placed 10th among 21 pairs. They deserved to be higher but as rookies carried no weight with the judges.
     Earlier Monday, Canadians Elvis Stojko and Emanuel Sandhu advanced through men's singles qualifying to the short-program segment today. Ice dance compulsories also are on the schedule today.
     No Canadian has stood on a world pairs podium in the last five years. Sargeant and Wirtz could end the drought, and Wirtz credited Sargeant with words of wisdom that helped Monday.
     "Kristy was great," said Wirtz. "She's been calming the team this week.
     "At practice I was bitchy because everything wasn't going exactly like it should. Kristy looked at me and said, 'Hey, life is going to go on. We're going to get married. Christmas is going to come. Everything is going to be good, so don't complain now.' She really kept us together."
     Canada was allowed to enter two pairs, and Saurette and Fecteau were third at the nationals in Ottawa so they didn't expect this trip. But 10 days ago they were asked to substitute for Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, with whom they train in the Montreal region, because Pelletier has a back injury.
     "Anywhere in the top 10 for our first year would be good," said Fecteau.
     They might finish higher if they perform as well as they did Monday.
     "Great toe, great twist, everything was good," Saurette said of their clean performance. "We have to do the same for the long (program)."
     Coach Richard Gauthier said he'd warned Saurette and Fecteau not to expect much kindness from the judges in their first world meet.
     "I expected them to skate like this," said Gauthier. "That's how they've been skating lately.
     "The result, I expected something like this, too. They did nothing wrong. It's their first time. That's all. Everybody ahead of them has been here before. After 20 years, I know the game."
     In men's singles qualifying, 15 skaters from each of two 21-skater groups advanced.
     In the first group, Evgeny Plushenko of Russia was first, Michael Weiss of the United States was second, and Stojko, on his 27th birthday, was third.
     In the second group, Alexei Yagudin of Russia was first, Alexei Urmanov of Russia was second, and Takeshi Honda of Japan was third. Sandhu was 11th.
     Four-revolution jumps were landed by Plushenko, Weiss, Stojko, Zhengxin Guo of China, Anthony Liu of Australia, and American Timothy Goebel. Stojko was the only skater to try two quads, and the three-time world champ fell on the second.
     Yagudin was best. He didn't try a quad, but he landed eight triple jumps and showed why he's the reigning world champ. Stojko cleanly landed four triples. Sandhu fell on a triple Axel attempt and landed four triples.
     For the first time, the qualifying segment was worth marks -- 20 per cent of the eventual total.
     "This was kind of a testing ground for me, getting the body to trust itself," Stojko said of the qualifying round. "This is the first competition I've had since before the (1998) nationals that I was 100 per cent.
     "It felt really good. Everything felt nice and quick and the timing was there."
     He knows he'll have to be better Thursday in the free-skating final.
     "I'll take it up another notch," he said. "I think when the building fills up and when the time comes, that's when you get the pump.
     "The pump wasn't there (Monday) but I was happy that all of the stuff was there. The feeling is there, the leg is great. Add a little bit of pump to it, rise to the occasion, and we can take it from there on Thursday."
     Stojko is an underdog, but coach Doug Leigh is optimistic.
     "Just his enthusiasm right now and how good he feels tells me the whole story," Leigh said of Stojko. "His skating right now is simply getting better.
     "It's a breath of fresh air for him" since he's recuperated from injuries that slowed him earlier this season.
     Sandhu didn't advance to the free-skating final last year. He appears destined to get there this time.
     "I know I can do a lot better," he said after the qualifying session, which required skaters to perform the long programs they'll do Thursday. "But I kept on pushing through the program and that's all that matters, for now anyway."

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