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U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Big Risk and Big Reward

Pairs: Ina, Zimmerman skate difficult program to win third straight U.S. title. Scott, Dulebohn also will go to Olympics.

January 12, 2002|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman smiled politely. Zimmerman raised one fist. The celebration of a U.S. Figure Skating national pairs championship, their third in a row, was an occasion for some enthusiasm but not for overwhelming joy. Not now, not yet. The goal is something. An Olympic medal.

It was the silver medalists, Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, who skated last and who knew they needed a steady if not spectacular performance to move from third to second and onto the Olympic team, who leaped into each other's arms when their scores were posted.

Ina and Zimmerman won their third straight U.S. title with their technically difficult program skated to Paginini's "Variations on a Theme." The performance wasn't clean. Zimmerman, a self-effacing NASCAR fan from Alabama, stumbled badly on his side-by-side triple toe jump, the same one he had fallen on in the short program.

And Ina, a city girl from New York, put her hand on the ice as she exited her throw triple salchow. But the Staples Center crowd was wowed by the danger and innovation of their lifts and was appreciative of the speed in the program.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday January 18, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Figure skating--Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman skated their long program to "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" by Andrew Lloyd Webber at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The title and composer of the piece were incorrect in a Sports story Saturday.

Finishing third were 17-year-old Stephanie Kalesavich and 24-year-old Aaron Parchem. This still-learning pair had begun the night in second place but their lack of experience operating in such a big moment showed almost immediately. On their second big element, the triple salchows, Kalesavich put both hands down and Parchem stumbled with one hand on the ice.

They finished third, a fine performance in their second senior nationals. But the U.S. can send only two pairs to the Olympics so Kalesavich and Parchem settled for big smiles and a bronze medal.

It had been a nervous week for Scott and Dulebohn. A fractured hip had kept Dulebohn sidelined all fall. They were debuting their competitive programs in the most tense situation--fighting for their first Olympic berth.

Tears were flowing before the final group of four leading pairs skated.

The sister-brother team of Danielle and Steve Hartsell, who were national champions in 1999, had to pull out moments before they were to skate. Steve Hartsell said he had suffered a groin pull during practice Monday. The injury worsened to the point where they had to withdraw. At last year's nationals, Steve Hartsell fell during a practice session the day before the short program and needed 12 stitches to close a cut in his head. A year earlier Danielle fell on a throw in practice and shattered her kneecap.

Both Hartsells left the ice crying.

"If there was anything I could do," Steve Hartsell said, "I mean, I was trying everything but I was more concerned with our safety. It's taught us a lot in trying to fight through everything but today, if I could have fought, I would have."

After finishing seventh at the 2001 World Championships for the second straight year, a frustrated Ina and Zimmerman came home to do some soul-searching. What followed were long talks and a series of weekly lunches at a Cheesecake Factory. There was cheesecake to eat and chatter about everything--skating gossip, personal crises and skating strategy.

Under the teaching of their coach, Tamara Moskvina, a respected Russian who has an iron will and adds, as Zimmerman says, "the third strong personality to this mix," Ina and Zimmerman had a program Friday night with the most difficult elements and skated with by far the greatest speed among American pairs.

To beat either the Canadian defending world champions, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier (who won the 2001 Grand Prix), or the Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, silver medalists at the 2001 worlds and the 1998 Winter Olympics, would take a near perfect program and some luck.

But it is possible to see Ina, who was fourth at the 1998 Olympics with former partner Jason Dungjen, and Zimmerman stepping onto the medals podium in Salt Lake City and winning the first U.S. pairs medal since Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard earned a bronze in 1988 at Calgary. Since pairs skating debuted at the 1908 Olympics, the U.S. owns only two bronze and three silver medals.

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