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First Impression Bad for Favorites

Figure skating: Malinina leads after a women's short program long on botched moves and low scores.


SALT LAKE CITY — In theory, the Four Continents figure skating championships, launched in 1999 as a sister event to the European championships, was a good idea.

In practice, judging by the quality of the women's short programs Thursday at the Delta Center, it's not such a great idea that the top U.S. skaters chose to skip the event.

On a night the judges doled out a 1.0 (out of 6.0) and countless scores in the 2 and 3 range, it was no surprise most of the favorites performed flawed programs. Tatiana Malinina of Uzbekistan was first, even though she had a 4.9 for required elements. Fumie Suguri of Japan was second, despite botching her triple flip. Shizuka Arakawa of Japan was a surprise third, the only woman in the top three to skate cleanly.

Jennifer Kirk of Newton, Mass., was fourth after she double-footed the landing of one jump and got little height on her other two jumps.

"I feel good about how I skated," said Kirk, who finished fourth at the U.S. championships. "You can't control the marks. All you can control is your performance."

Angela Nikodinov of San Pedro, who finished an impressive third at the U.S. competition, again fell prey to the nerves that plagued her in past years. She hit her opening move, a triple lutz-double toe loop combination, but reduced her planned triple flip to a double and did a single axel instead of a double, placing her seventh.

"It's hard, especially after nationals, to come back and start training," said Nikodinov, who trains at Lake Arrowhead and El Segundo.

Amber Corwin of Hermosa Beach fell on her required double axel and made enough other mistakes to get a 4.0 for required elements and seven other marks below 5. Her presentation scores were decent, but she placed ninth.

"I'm fine, though my ego's a little bruised," Corwin said.

The women's competition ends Saturday with the long program, worth two-thirds of the final score.

Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada added to their list of victories by winning the pairs long program and the pairs title. They got a perfect 6.0 for presentation in a vibrant and polished performance that drew a standing ovation.

Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China were second, displaying nimble footwork and strong throws that brought them technical marks of one 5.7, seven 5.8s and a 5.9. U.S. champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman were third, with a solid program that included a few small missteps.

Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, second at the U.S. competition, retained fifth place even though Scott fell once. The brother-sister pair of Danielle and Steve Hartsell dropped from seventh after the short program to ninth.

Sale and Pelletier, who won the Skate America and Skate Canada, performed a dramatic and emotive routine to "Tristan and Isolde Fantasy," by Richard Wagner.

"Skating to win is not fun," Pelletier said. "Skating because you enjoy it, that's what we focused on today.

Ina and Zimmerman also said they were too nervous at the U.S. championships to enjoy themselves, because they knew they had to finish first or second to qualify for the world championships. There was less pressure Thursday and more chances to work on their lifts and twists in a program they skated to "Variations on a Theme of Paganini," by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Chinese pair, second in last year's world championships, acknowledged they were hampered by jet lag and a mild ankle sprain Shen suffered in the warmups. However, they complimented their rivals.

"We thought we did a wonderful job and we could also see other top athletes do wonderful work," Zhao said through a translator.

In ice dancing, the standings after the original dance remained unchanged from the compulsory dance phase. Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz of Canada maintained their lead, with U.S. champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev second and Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon of Canada fourth.

Jessica Joseph and Brandon Forsyth of the U.S. were fourth, two places ahead of compatriots Beata Handra and Charles Sinek.

The free dance, the final phase and worth 50% of the score, will be contested today. The men's competition ends tonight with the long program. Todd Eldredge of the U.S. leads the pack, with Chengjiang Li of China second and Matthew Savoie of the U.S. third.

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