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  • Wednesday, March 24, 1999

    Russians repeat, Sargeant and Wirtz sixth

    By NEIL STEVENS -- Canadian Press
     HELSINKI (CP) -- There was one standing ovation during the pairs competition at the world figure skating championship Wednesday night, and it was for Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao.
     The Chinese couple delivered a dynamic free-skating program without error. Yet, they had to settle for silver when the judges awarded gold, for the second year in a row, to Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia.
     Berezhnaya fell during her performance. The Chinese followed and wowed the crowd, which booed when they were marked behind the Russians. Another controversy in a sport that habitually frustrates fans and athletes alike because what you see is not always what you get.
     Canadian champions Kristy Sargeant of Alix, Alta., and Kris Wirtz of Marathon, Ont., wound up sixth -- one spot better than last year -- and knew that was where they deserved to be. Wirtz, however, had plenty to say about the selection of a winner.
     "As an athlete, you watch and you know who goes for it and you know who's just trying to get the job done," he said. "The team that was (placed) second did it.
     "They went out and went balls to the wall. They threw everything to the wind and they said, 'Screw it. Either I'm going to win it all or I'm going to drop to 10th.' I respect that.
     "I do respect the other team. Don't get me wrong. I just don't respect the result. If pairs is turning into hammer throwing and pitching the broad 50 feet across the ice, then give it to the damn team that's doing it the best in the world because that's what they're doing from third to 10th."
     Paul Wirtz, his older brother and coach, attempted to apply some diplomacy.
     "The first-place team emulates beautiful pairs skating and that's what we're all trying to do," he said. "They've been around for a while and everybody recognizes those qualities.
     "The second-place pair has risen dramatically. I believe they've given us enough good performances though that they could have (won). Obviously the judging panel wants them to bank a few more maybe before they give them the title, although I think they'll have a lot of trouble outskating what they did (Wednesday).
     "It's sad to see that such a performance that is so spectacular -- not a wobble -- that we might never see again . . . and to see it not rewarded I think is where a lot of (Kris's) frustration comes from."
     Valerie Saurette and Jean-Sebastien Fecteau of Montreal finished 13th at their first worlds.
     Earlier Wednesday, Jennifer Robinson of Windsor, Ont., was eighth in her women's singles qualifying group. Fifteen from each of two groups advanced to the short program Friday.
     Today, ice dancers perform their original dances before the men's singles free-skating show takes centre stage.
     Sargeant and Wirtz made only one significant technical error, when Sargeant touched a hand to the ice on landing on a throw triple Salchow. But their overall performance was below the quality of the medallists in most areas. They'd been fourth, and in contention for medals, after the short program Monday.
     "We can't be disappointed," said Sargeant. "Sixth isn't bad.
     "We had small little glitches but you live and learn and this was a good learning experience for us for next year."
     What was it that they learned?
     "Probably how to deal with being in the last group," said Sargeant. "It's a bit different to get used to."
     The Russians and the Chinese were going to be on the podium, regardless, said Paul Wirtz. So, his skaters had to outskate the Poles if they wanted to move up.
     "Kristy and Kris did not have their best skate," he said. "They needed their Canadian championship performance and if they'd duplicated that they'd have been standing on the podium."
     Saurette and Fecteau made three errors: Saurette doubled the schedule triple toe loop entry to a solo jump combination; both touched hands to the ice on landing side-by-side triple jumps; and Saurette singled a double flip jump.
     "It was disappointing," said Fecteau. "It wasn't the way we wanted to skate at all.
     "But this gives us a world ranking, which will help us next season at the Grand Prix meets. When we came here, we were nothing but a hair on a soup."



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