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  • Wednesday, March 24, 1999

    Elvis' first priority is a strong finish

    Stojko third behind Russian superteens

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
      HELSINKI, Finland -- The lights went out on Elvis Stojko yesterday at the world figure skating championships.
     Fortunately, though, it was only during a post-skate media conference, and the three-time men's world champion continued on without missing a beat, just as he has all season -- even though at times he has felt alone in the dark.
     No more. The Richmond Hill skater, who injured his groin last season and has been completely pain free only for the past couple of weeks, skated a strong short yesterday to move into third heading into tomorrow's long program at the Hartwall Arena.
     Russian wunderkind Evgeny Plushenko, 16, was clearly the class of the field, skating a virtually flawless short, which included a triple-Axel/triple-toe jump combination, ending his lively program with the unique Biellmann spin and earning first-place scores from all nine judges.
     His compatriot, defending world champion Alexei Yagudin, 19, stepped out of his triple-Axel/triple-toe combo, but skated solidly otherwise to take second.
     Stojko, who turned 27 on Monday, made a couple of mistakes, doubling the end of a planned triple Axel/triple toe and two-footing his quad toe.
     Still, the performance was good enough for third, placing him firmly in the medal hunt, although both Russians have to finish third or worse in the long program for the Canadian to win.
     "But I'm not focusing on the win," Stojko said. "I'm not focusing on the placement. Once you get caught up in all of that, you're not focusing really on what it's all about.I just want to skate well. If I skate well, I'll be happy."
     Stojko is happy just being here. There were doubts, given the severity of his groin injury, that he would even make to this event. It seems everyone, perhaps other than Stojko and his team, had written him off at one time or another during the past few months.
     "I was watching tennis (yesterday), watching Steffi Graf. And the commentator had said 'I don't know if she'll ever get back in form again.' And I just laughed, because she just won a match. She was down, she came out and just annihilated the competition. But they still doubt the person," he said. "A champion is not someone who backs down."
     Other than Plushenko's performance, yesterday's short wasn't the greatest. And that was reflected in the judging. Three judges scored Stojko second, two others sixth. Fourth-place finisher Michael Weiss of the U.S. earned second-place scores from three judges yet was dumped into seventh by another.
     Weiss, 22, made only one serious mistake, two-footing a triple flip, but his program lacked the difficulty of most of the others in the final flight.
     Stojko skated dead last and swept on to the ice with the crowd still screaming kudos for Plushenko. But far from throwing him off, the atmosphere lifted Stojko.
     "I like that because it's a situation where you have a crowd up and it's lifting and you can ride the wave," he said. "What is difficult is this whole season, coming through and trying to get on my feet and getting confidence and pushing forward."

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