Unheralded Russians Skate to World Pairs Title

EDMONTON, Canada -- Russia's Marina Eltsova and Andrei Bushkov made their first win of 1996 a big one, taking the World Figure Skating Championships pairs competition in a night of upsets.


In the men's short program, two-time world champion Elvis Stojko of Canada fell to the dismay of the home fans and the shock of his peers on Wednesday.


That dropped Stojko to seventh place, out of the race for gold, and opened up the competition for Thursday night's finals. The Russians and Americans seized the opportunity, finishing first and third and second and fourth, respectively.


In the pairs, Eltsova and Bushkov, fourth at Europeans and second in three other events this year, finished first with four judges, in the first final of the championships.


Oddly, four other judges voted for another Russian pair, 1994 world champs Yevgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov, who didn't even win a medal; their marks with five other judges were weak enough to drop them into fourth.


"As far as I could tell, all the pairs committed errors in their programs. The important thing was we made as few mistakes as possible," Bushkov said.


Germany's Mandy Wotzel and Ingo Steuer, leaders after the short program, took the silver for the second time in four years. First with only the judge from Germany, they might have lost the gold when she fell badly on a throw double axel, their only real mistake.


Americans Jenni Meno and Todd Sand rallied for a bronze medal


Ilya Kulik, Russia's rising star, and 1994 Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov were first and third in the men's event.


In second place was Todd Eldredge of the United States, while U.S. champion Rudy Galindo continued his sensational season with a solid performance that placed him fourth heading into the free skate finale.


On Stojko's second jump, the crucial triple axel combination, he went down. The crowd let out a collective gasp.


"You miss one jump and bang, you're out of the running," Stojko said. "Fate takes its course -- maybe not in the way I would have liked.


"It would be great to win in your own country, and you want to do it. But now I'm out of running for the gold."


The rest of Stojko's routine was flat. And the judges agreed, particularly on the technical marks, which ranged from 5.1 to 5.4 out of 6.0, unusual territory for Stojko.


Although Eltsova and Bushkov had a mediocre conclusion to their free skate, worth two-thirds the total score, their side-by-side jumps and lifts were strong, as was their presentation.


Eltsova and Bushkov, who earned $75,000, last beat Shishkova and Naumov in the 1993 European championships.


"We are very good friends with them, but it is always good to compete and win," Bushkov said of his Russian compatriots. "Any of the top five couples could have won."


Three-time U.S. champions Meno and Sand held onto their bronze of 1995 by moving up from fifth place after the short program. They hit all of their major elements and the only bobble came when she skipped a double loop in the middle of a jump sequence.


Meno and Sand became the first American pair with world medals in consecutive years since 1979, when Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner got their third in a row, a gold.


"One of the things that really helped us today was our relationship," said Meno, who married Sand last summer.


"Last night, we were disappointed with the way we skated, but we were able to put that behind us and go out there and skate a good program."


Skating to "Nessun Dorma," the same music they used a year ago -- but, as Meno repeatedly said, "with much more passion" -- the couple jumped past Shishkova-Naumov and the third Russian pair, Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitryev, who wound up fifth.


Dmitryev won the 1992 Olympics and two worlds with another partner. He seemed headed for a medal Wednesday night until his new colleague fell twice, then an upside-down lift had to be cut short.


Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen, the U.S. runners-up for the last three years, were sixth.