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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Skaters Poised for Medals

For months figure skating has promised to be the marquee event at Lillehammer's 1994 Winter Games as a roll call of former champions attempt to recapture glory on the Olympic stage.


Well, with the Games opening Saturday and the first figure-skating contest Sunday, the sport is definitely the most anticipated event but, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. Former Olympic champions such as Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean from Britain, Ukraine's Viktor Petrenko, Katarina Witt of Germany and Russia's Yekaterina Gordeyeva and Sergei Grinkov have been almost completely pushed out of the public eye by the fallout from the sensational attack on American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.


Orchestrated by rival Tonya Harding's husband and associates -- and possibly even Harding herself -- to bolster Harding's chances at a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, Kerrigan has recovered from a severely bruised knee and will skate the women's competition beginning Feb. 23. Harding, however, is scheduled to appear before a U.S. Olympic Committee hearing to decide her fate. Even if Harding survives the hearing and competes, it is not likely that she will win a medal.


The women's competition is likely to be a tight struggle between figure-skating wunderkind Oksana Baiul, who stunned figure-skating fans by capturing the world championships last year at the age of 15, and France's Surya Bonaly. Baiul skates with a grace and elegance that harkens back to two-time gold medal winner Witt in her prime and stands in contrast to the raw athleticism of most current skaters. Bonaly will be the Odessa native's chief rival with Kerrigan possibly squeezing in for bronze.


Russia's Olga Markova snared the bronze at the European championships last month, right behind winner Bonaly and Baiul, but will not be traveling to Lillehammer since Russia did not qualify for the women's competition.


However, Russian skaters are poised to seize a number of medals, including a possible clean sweep in the pairs competition. The 1988 Olympic champions Gordeyeva and Grinkov, a husband-and-wife team, put their professional careers on hold -- after four years away from amateur competition -- and led a Russian sweep of the medals at last month's European championships. They were followed by Yevgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov and 1992 Olympic champions Natalya Mishkutenok and Artur Dmitriyev.


Gordeyeva and Grinkov, who won the world championships four times in addition to their Olympic gold, are favorites to reclaim their Olympic title. Mishkutenok and Dmitriyev are their main obstacles.


They were hurt by a judge at the European championships who incorrectly entered scores after the technical round, which dropped them to fifth place. Taking advantage of the artistry that carried them to the Olympic title in 1992, they managed to move up two places for the bronze. However, they will have to cut down on their technical mistakes in order to beat Gordeyeva and Grinkov.


Torvill and Dean are the sentimental favorites for the ice-dancing gold. Although they won the European championships last month for the fourth time, their uninspired free program might prove their achilles heel in Lillehammer. The incomprehensible scoring system deserves as much credit for their European success as do Torvill and Dean.


The lively rock-and-roll free program of European runners-up Oksana Grishchuk and Yevgeny Platov of Russia and the solid performance of third-place finishers and defending world champions Russians Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin sent a loud warning to the British couple that they will not be able to simply waltz away with the gold as they did in 1984. In fact, the two Russian couples could very well end up with the gold and silver, leaving the Britons with the bronze or lower.


In the men's competition, Russia's best chances lie with Alexei Urmanov, who managed to sneak into third place at the European championships. Higher than that will be difficult with the return of 1992 gold medalist Petrenko and 1988 winner Brian Boitano.


Ukraine's Petrenko is the favorite to capture the gold. Although he won in Europe last month, he did skate a shaky free program. However, expect him to have worked out all the kinks in time for the men's event, beginning Thursday.