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OLYMPICS / HELENE ELLIOTT

U.S. Wrestlers Have Waited for This Week

September 12, 2003|HELENE ELLIOTT

More than 500 muscular wrestlers from nearly 80 countries have been wandering the streets of Manhattan this week.

Think anyone noticed?

"New York City provides some unique amenities," Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, said with a laugh, "as well as some unique challenges."

Although New Yorkers might be blase about the visitors in their midst, U.S. wrestlers are overjoyed to be there for the World Freestyle Wrestling Championships, which begin today at Madison Square Garden.

The World Championships for freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling were to be held at the Garden in 2001 but were postponed because of security and travel concerns after Sept. 11. The competition eventually was moved and split; the freestyle event was held in Sofia, Bulgaria -- where a young U.S. team finished out of the top three -- and the Greco-Roman event took place in Patras, Greece.

The Greco-Roman wrestlers competed in Moscow last year, but the U.S. freestylers were kept home from the competition in Iran because the State Department received and confirmed a threat against the U.S. team.

"We haven't wrestled in this event in two years, and we certainly feel we had a team that was capable of winning the championship," Bender said. "We won in '93 and '95 and that made [missing last year] that much more disappointing."

This weekend's event is a qualifier for the 2004 Athens Games. The top 10 finishers in each men's weight class will earn an Olympic spot for their respective federations, with a maximum of one competitor per country per weight class. The men will compete in seven classes -- down from 10 at the 1996 Atlanta Games -- and the women in seven. For the women, who will compete in four weight classes at Athens, the top five finishers will win Olympic berths for their respective nations.

"This is an unbelievably important event for us," Bender said. "Obviously, the Olympic ramifications magnify that, but also, our athletes have been pulling for this for a long time. We have athletes that will contend at every weight."

Iran is the defending world men's team champion, but Russia is strong at the heavier weights and Cuba and Ukraine are experienced. The U.S. men have only one past world medalist in Joe Williams, who was third at 163 pounds in 2001, and one Olympian, Kerry McCoy, at 264.5 pounds.

The U.S. women won the world team title in 1999 but were 11th last year, while Japan won its 10th title in 15 opportunities. The U.S. team has four past world medalists, including six-time medalist Kristie Marano, who wrestles at 147.5 pounds.

"We have two teams that are going to New York with the objective of winning," Bender said.

*

Figuring Skating

Amber Corwin of Hermosa Beach was guardedly optimistic after her introduction to figure skating's cumulative scoring system, which was used for the first time last week to determine the outcome of an event.

"It's definitely interesting, but it was the first time we really saw it all going on, so it was a little confusing," said Corwin, who finished seventh at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Oberstdorf, Germany. "I kind of understand it.

"There were a lot of jumps we thought weren't worth as much as we thought they should be. It seemed points were given more for easy jumps that were done well than difficult jumps that weren't done so well. It has some promise and it does have the opportunity to be more fair than the old system, but it still has some kinks."

Charlie Cyr of Palm Desert, one of the system's creators, said it produced an accurate and precise outcome because judges can rate more aspects of each program than in the past. The system will be used in Grand Prix events this season but not at next year's U.S. championships. Before it can be used at the World Championships or Olympics, it must be adopted by the International Skating Union, whose president, Ottavio Cinquanta, is its biggest backer.

"The big worry at the beginning was that it was going to be a jumping contest, but it turned out tricks are important, but the system rewarded good skating and a good program," Cyr said. "You're rating each skater and not ranking each skater against the other, so you're able to evaluate the quality of each element and forget that element and move on.

"Everybody has a chance to win. It's not like you're fifth, you don't have a chance to be first. That was proven in the [ice dance original dance]. Anyone from one through seven had the capability of winning."

He disagreed with Corwin's perception that risk isn't rewarded, citing base marks tied to the difficulty of each jump or spin. A technical specialist identifies each move to judges, who can review tapes to resolve doubts. Each skater or couple will get a technical score and points for skating skills, performance/execution, choreography and interpretation. Those are added for an overall score.

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