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  • Monday, March 22, 1999

    Stojko and Sandhu advance through qualifying phase

    By NEIL STEVENS -- Canadian Press
     HELSINKI -- Elvis Stojko was judged third-best in his qualifying group today, keeping Canada's champion in contention for a fourth world figure skating title but re-affirming that he's a longshot candidate.
     Russian Evgeny Plushenko was first with American Michael Weiss second.
     In the second qualifying group, Russian Alexei Yagudin was first, compatriot Alexei Urmanov was second and Japan's Takeshi Honda third. Emanuel Sandhu of Richmond Hill, Ont., was 11th.
     Yagudin was the best skater of the day. He didn't try a four-revolution jump like many others -- including Stojko who tried two quads -- but landed eight triple jumps and showed why he's the reigning world champion.
     The top 15 from each group of 21 advanced to the short program Tuesday.
     Stojko landed his first quad attempt but fell on the second. He also double-footed a triple Axel landing that interrupted a jump combination. He landed four triples cleanly in this dress rehearsal for the long-program finale Thursday.
     "The second quad felt great," Stojko said. "I felt like I could do it.
     "I think I was just a little sloppy on the landing."
     For the first time, the qualifying segment was worth marks -- 20 per cent of the final total.
     "It's a weird feeling," Stojko said. "It's only worth 20 so you want to do well but you don't want to overdo it.
     "You kind of stay in between. You go out there with that half attitude. It's easier when you sort of take all the breaks off and go for it."
     He says he's fully recovered now from the groin and abdomen injuries of last season.
     "This was kind of a testing ground for me, getting the body to trust itself," he 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.
     "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 today. 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 Thursday."
     Stojko's marks were mostly 5.6s and 5.7s, with a 5.8 from the U.S. judge.
     Also landing quads in Stojko's group were Plushenko, Weiss -- with his first-ever in competition -- Zhengxin Guo of China and Anthony Liu of Australia.
     Plushenko and Weiss landed more triples and combos than Stojko, thus their higher marks.
     But coach Doug Leigh was optimistic.
     "Just his enthusiasm right now and how good he feels tells me the whole story," Leigh said of Stojko. "Stepping out there today and feeling that great about skating when there's nobody in the building and it's before lunch . . . He put down a hell of a program.
     "His skating right now is simply getting better. It's a breath of fresh air for him" since the injury recovery worries vanished."
     Stojko was left with plenty of time to celebrate his 27th birthday.
     "I'm done before 12 o'clock so I think I'm going to enjoy the rest of the day," he said.
     Sandhu fell on his first jump attempt, a triple Axel. His scheduled combo was out the window. He doubled out on his next intended triple. But he recovered nicely by landing his next four triple jumps including an Axel. He didn't attempt a quad, he said, because he had to skate first in his group and needed more time to warm up in order to consider doing a quad.
     "The first program is always the toughest," Sandu said in describing his sub-par performance. "I know I can do a lot better.
     "But I kept on pushing through the program and that's all that matters, for now anyway."
     It is a pivotal championship in Sandhu's skating life. After failing to make it to the free-skating final last year in Minneapolis, he needs to impress this time.
     "It's not any easier but I guess I'm more used to this now," he said. "It's my second worlds and I know what to expect."

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