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U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS | Mike Penner / ICE
FOLLIES

Kwan Is ... Wait, Raiders Just Scored

January 13, 2002|MIKE PENNER

Football or figure skating, that was the question.

ABC made its call early on that one, opting to keep the Raiders-Jets playoff game right where it was, on prime-time center stage, and bumping the women's free skate at the U.S. Olympic trials to a side lot known as ABC Family Channel.

To put it another way, ABC opted for Al Michaels, Dan Fouts, Dennis Miller and Eric Dickerson over Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, Sarah Hughes and Angela Nikodinov. I'm not sure I'd make the same call, but I'm not paid to make those decisions.

We had been told, again and again after their lively short-program scrimmage, that Michelle and Sasha and Sarah and Angela composed one of the all-time great starting lineups for a "championship ladies free skating" final (as they call it in the program) at the U.S. nationals.

The Fearsome Foursome of U.S. championship ladies free skating.

The Steel Curtain of U.S. championship ladies free skating.

The Purple People Eaters of U.S. championship ladies free skating.

Well, that's not entirely accurate.

The Lilac, Lavender And Silver Sequined People Eaters, then.

Any way you looked at it, it was a performance not to be missed. But the figure skaters were going head to head with the Jets and Raiders, and the Raiders used to be a big deal here, but the only way to watch the skating final live was to drive out to Staples Center and leave the big screen behind.

What's a well-rounded sports enthusiast to do?

One idea: Show up at Staples and head for the worst seat in the house--a chair in the hockey press box, high above the Laker championship banners, up among the rafters, a parachute dive away from center ice. On the plus side, the press box has many television monitors, with a couple available for pro football viewing.

The monitors were silent, their volume functions disabled. ABC's cameras showed Dickerson on the sideline, moving his mouth, but we could not hear a word. This was not a bad thing.

So with one eye on the television, another on the ice and one ear plugged to the radio, the competitions began.

The Jets kicked off and the Raiders began their opening drive while Stacey Pensgen of Fairport, N.Y., began her routine. Pensgen was clad in blue, the Raiders in home black. Pensgen performed to the theme music from "Dr. Zhivago," and at the same time, so did Tyrone Wheatley. Not quite "Up She Rises" and John Facenda intoning, "The autumn wind is a Raid-uh," but, you know, it did make Sebastian Janikowski seem more graceful.

Joan Cristobal of San Jose went next, skating to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, a long-standing favorite of the Black Hole. There the denizens, wearing black and silver greasepaint and spikes on their heads, glared into the camera and--since we couldn't really hear--apparently screamed their support for the local girl.

The Raiders were leading, 9-3, late in the second quarter as Hermosa Beach's Amber Corwin stepped onto the ice. Corwin was 21/2 minutes into an elegantly dispatched program when her music suddenly stopped. So, at the same time, did the football game.

Two-minute warning.

After some awkward moments standing around with hands on hips, the music finally restarted and Corwin and the Raiders and the Jets resumed action. Ninety seconds later, Rich Gannon passed to Tim Brown in the back of the end zone. Raiders 16, Jets 3, Corwin ranging from 4.9 to 5.5 for artistic presentation.

The football game stopped for halftime. ABC ran a commercial for a strange new game show featuring a dentist's chair, a ring of fire and John McEnroe. The Staples Center video board flashed to a skater in the kiss-and-cry area, her face streaked with tears.

The football game moved into the fourth quarter. The ladies championship free skate headed into its final group.

Kwan led off as the Raiders punted. Kwan hit a triple lutz-double loop combination, nailed a triple flip, eased into a spectacular Charlotte spiral. She ended her program to a standing ovation, having clinched her trip to the Winter Olympics. The Jets were going nowhere.

Nikodinov had a rough night, but so did Herman Edwards. His Jets fell behind, 22-10, shortly after Nikodinov fell on a triple loop and doubled three triple jumps. Cohen went next, wearing black and silver, and skated cleanly, just as Richie Anderson scored for the Jets. Cohen had protected her second place standing and her berth on the Olympic team. Up in Oakland, nobody was playing any defense.

Next up: Hughes. The pressure was off, after Nikodinov's mistakes, and Hughes did what she needed to do: No big mistakes, lots of 5.6s and 5.7s, good enough for third place.

The roster for the three-woman Olympic team was displayed on the video board.

1. Kwan.

2. Cohen.

3. Hughes.

The names were still glowing up there when the Raiders scored again, Gannon to Rice, for a 31-17 lead.

Kwan, Cohen and Hughes were headed for Salt Lake City.

The Raiders were headed for New England.

On tap for all parties: Cold weather. Rugged competition.

But, finally, a TV slot to call their own.

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