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  • Thursday, March 25, 1999

    Kwan speeds to recovery, Yagudin soars to victory

     HELSINKI, Finland (AP) -- The skating bug prevailed over the cold bug for Michelle Kwan Thursday as she bounced back from a head cold to practice for the World Championships on a day that she had considered taking off.
     Meanwhile, defending champion Alexei Yagudin of Russia showed he had recovered in a big way from a sore calf that had bothered him earlier in the week, retaining his title with a superb execution of one of the toughest programs ever seen in the championships.
     Early in his routine to music from the movie "Lawrence of Arabia," Yagudin unleashed a flawless quad, not only landing it firmly but with a flair that emphasized to the audience that he'd nailed it.
     Then he knocked off an array of triples with an ease and power that seemed almost arrogant. The program included two taxing triple-triple combinations.
     But any impression of arrogance vanished once the program ended. The 19-year-old Yagudin raised his arm in joy, then knelt and kissed the ice, and buried his face in his hands as he left the ice.
     He recovered his composure to see scores that included a rare 6.0 technical merit mark from one judge. The rest, for technique and presentation, were 5.8s and 5.9s.
     "This season was so much harder than last season," Yagudin said. "It's so much harder to win a world title or a European title again than to win it the first time."
     He credited new coach Tatiana Tarasova with deepening his performances esthetically. "She worked with me to make me feel the music and artistic impression."
     Runner-up to Yagudin was compatriot Yevgeny Plushenko, who failed on a quad attempt but pleased judges with his litheness. Plushenko is the only male skater at championship level who can do the Bielmann spin -- spinning while holding one leg behind his head.
     Michael Weiss, who earlier in the week hit the first quad ever accomplished in a world championship, placed third despite failing on a quad in the long program.
     "The program is ... not just one quad," said Weiss, whose medal finish was higher than expected.
     Weiss edged Canada's Elvis Stojko, the three-time world champion, who put a hand on the ice in his first quad, but succeeded with his second.
     American Tim Goebel finished 12th, but earned a place in the record books by completing the first quad salchow-triple toe loop ever in a world championship. The quad salchow, which does not use the toe pick to launch the skater, is more difficult than the quad toe loop done by six other skaters in the final.
     In her practice, defending champion Kwan showed the assurance and consistency that occasionally had been missing earlier in the week. She repeatedly landed the triple lutz that she had unexpectedly turned into a double during the previous day's qualifying round.
     After the qualifier, coach Frank Carroll said he and Kwan were considering making Thursday a day of rest to recover from the cold that had begun bothering her on the flight to Helsinki.
     But Carroll said she was bouncing back and they decided not to take it easy.
     "We decided to practice because it would be an opportunity to go over some things," he said.
     In the ice dance, Russian titleholders Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov were second but in a virtual tie for the lead. The winner will be decided in the final free dance Friday.
     Krylova and Ovsiannikov could have virtually wrapped up the title with a win in the original dance portion, worth 30 percent of the total scoring.
     However, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won the dance on a 5-4 decision over the defending champions. When the scores went up, both shouted with joy and hugged each other as if they had won.
     It was good enough to push them back into contention.
     They skated to a flowing waltz with changing rhythms to music from a Russian movie, showing more emotion than the defenders.
     Krylova and Ovsiannikov had more speed to the drinking song from La Traviata, sung by Luciano Pavarotti, but lacked the closeness of Anissina and Peizerat.
     Canadian Shae-Lynn Bourne and Germany's Victor Kraatz were third. Even if they win the free dance, if one of the other top two couples comes in second, that couple would win the title.
     If the French win the ice dance, it would be the first loss by a Russian or former Soviet couple in the ice dance since 1984.

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