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  • Thursday, March 25, 1999

    Wirtz rips into the judges

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
      HELSINKI, Finland -- The top Canadian pairs team dropped like a rock yesterday at the world figure-skating championships. And it produced quite a ripple.
     Sitting fourth heading into the free skate, Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz put on a shaky final program and fell two places -- putting on hold their dream of winning a world championship medal for at least another year, if they don't retire first.
     In defeat, Wirtz let his frustrations take over, blasting the judges for awarding the defending world champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia the gold medal over their Chinese rivals Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao.
     Wirtz, at 29 the oldest competitor this year, suggested the Russians were rewarded for playing it safe.
     "The team that was second did it. They threw everything into the wind and said 'we're going to win it all or drop to 10th,' " the Thunder Bay native said. "That's what I respect.
     
     FIRST MEDAL FOR CHINESE
     "I respect (the Russians) as a team. I don't respect the result," Wirtz said. "There was something there (with the Chinese). You can tell."
     The crowd agreed with Wirtz's assessment and gave the Chinese team, the first pair from that nation to win a medal at the worlds, a standing ovation at the end of their program, which was performed to the Mulan soundtrack. The crowd jeered passionately when the presentation scores were announced and it was obvious the Russians would win.
     Wirtz said the Russian performance was a case of acrobatics winning the day.
     "If pairs is turning into hammer throwing or pitching the broad 50-feet across the ice, then give it to them," he said, his voice cracking with frustration.
     The Russians, skating to the Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, made one major mistake, Berezhnaya falling on an opening double Axel. Overall, they were solid, as were the Chinese. The difference was the presentation scores. Inexplicitly, the judges thought the Russians were superior artistically, even though Wirtz and the crowd loved the second-place team.
     In any event, the victory is Russia's 28th in the pairs in the past 34 years.
     The second Canadian team of Valerie Saurette and Jean-Sebastien Fecteau of the St-Leonard club in Quebec skated a decent debut long program at a worlds.
     Both touched on side-by-side triples, while Saurette doubled a couple of triple jumps. The pair, which finished third at the Canadian championships, performed most of its elements cleanly and placed 13th. Not bad, considering Saurette and Fecteau were last-minute replacements for Montreal-based Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
     Pelletier was forced to withdraw because of a back injury.
     Dorota Zagorska and Mariusz Siudek of Poland remained in third after the long.



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