Inside Olympic Sports

January 29, 2001

Fall Guys
While Michelle Kwan soared at the figure skating nationals, the
men hit the deck

When the Battle of the Sexes is finally surrendered and women
have taken over the planet, anthropologists will look back on the
2001 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston as the event
that turned the tide, proving beyond question that when the
pressure is high, the ladies are mentally tougher and better
prepared. With the Salt Lake City Olympics only 13 months away
and only two spots available at the world championships in
Vancouver in March, America's finest male skaters put on two
pratfall-filled evenings of FleetCenter fun. Pies in the face
would not have been out of place.

Leading this merry chase were three men who now have eight U.S.
singles titles among them: Tim Goebel (one), Michael Weiss (two)
and Todd Eldredge (five), all of whom have apparently been
sneaking lessons from Michael Richards. Each seemed determined to
outslapstick the others. Weiss, the two-time defending champ, led
after the short program but fell twice in his freestyle, stepped
out of two jumps and failed to land a single combination. It was
a performance that wouldn't have defended the novice title, and
he sank to fourth.

Eldredge fared almost as badly. Coming back after a two-year
hiatus from Olympic-style competition, the 29-year-old former
world champ botched the combination jump in his short program,
then doubled four planned triple jumps in the freestyle and
tripled a quad. Such a collection of gaffes should have dropped
him from contention, but amid this nightmare on Causeway Street
it was judged to be the second-best skate of the night. "I'm just
happy I got out alive," Eldredge said, echoing the sentiment of
the 15,173 spectators.

The champion of this Boston Ass-Over-Teakettle Party?
Twenty-year-old Goebel, who won his first U.S. crown despite
muffing two landings in his short program and then falling in
Saturday afternoon's freestyle on one of his three quads. The
so-called King of Quads--Goebel has landed 27 in competition--did
complete one four-revolution jump cleanly and doubled another.
That made him one-for-three on the night, a good batting average
in baseball. It's not exactly the recipe for success in skating,
however, especially for Goebel, who has issues in the area of
artistry. His posture is hunched, his stroking unsightly, and his
spins resemble the last go-rounds of a wobbling coin, and that's
after improving in those areas since switching to Frank Carroll,
Michelle Kwan's coach, last summer. "This was not our best
night," Goebel said, "but as Frank tells me at least once a week,
'It's not the perfect skater who wins, it's the best one.'"

That would have been Kwan. The 20-year-old UCLA sophomore
survived a bobble early in her free skate to hold off an amazing
field of women and win her fifth title in six years. Behind her,
Sarah Hughes, 15, Angela Nikodinov, 20, Jennifer Kirk, 16, and
Amber Corwin, 22, all skated brilliantly under pressure. Kwan was
still queen, however, reeling in nine perfect 6.0s for
presentation from the judges, including seven after her short
program, which was as close to a perfect 2:40 of skating as
you'll see.

Unfortunately, on Saturday night, early in her freestyle program,
Kwan ratcheted back a planned triple toe-triple toe combination
into a disappointing double-double. Kwan has done this far too
often. While it hardly matters when she skates before a panel of
U.S. judges, who value her artistry above all else, Kwan should
know that international judges expect more athleticism. Twice
already this season she has lost to Russia's Irina Slutskaya, who
lands triple-triple combinations with ease and will stand between
Kwan and her first Olympic gold medal. "I'm pretty disappointed I
didn't do the triple-triple," Kwan said. "I've been working
really hard at it, and it's been going well in practice, but when
it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. What can I say? It's back
to the rink."

Stand out of the way, boys. In fact, wait until they send in the
clowns.

High School Sub-Four
Webb's Run for The Ages

On a sultry night last May in Charlotte, Alan Webb failed in his
attempt to become the first high school runner in 33 years to
break four minutes for the mile. His superb condition was
undercut by an uneven pace and the beginnings of a hip injury
that would curtail his junior season. Still, he refused to claim
even a moral victory from his PR of 4:03.3. "I had a goal, and I
didn't get it," Webb said that evening, "but the goal is still
out there."

It is behind him now. Last Saturday at the New Balance Games at
the Armory Track & Field Center in New York City, Webb ran
3:59.86 to become the first high school miler to crack the
four-minute barrier since Marty Liquori did it in the summer of
1967. Webb is only the fourth schoolboy runner to break four and
the first to do it indoors.

Even more impressive, Webb, an 18-year-old senior at South Lakes
High in Reston, Va., was running in his first mile of the year,
less than two months after the finish of a cross-country season
in which he had finished second at the Foot Locker nationals to
the equally precocious Dathan Ritzenhein of Rockford, Mich. "I
took two weeks off and then went right back into pretty intense
training," Webb said on Sunday. "I knew this race was a good
opportunity to get under four."

Like Liquori, and Jim Ryun in four of his five sub-fours, Webb
benefited from running in an open competition, as opposed to a
high school race, in which he would have had to carry the pace.
At the Armory, Webb sat behind the leaders through dead-on splits
of 59.9, 1:59.5 and 2:59.9 on the banked, lightning-fast,
200-meter track. "I knew I had it with a quarter left," said
Webb, who finished third, behind Leonard Mucheru, 21, of Kenya
and James Madison grad Matt Holthaus, 29.

Webb, who will run next year at Michigan, might face
Colorado-bound Ritzenhein in an indoor two-mile in March, but he
is pointing toward a busy spring and faster miles. "Four minutes
is gone," said Webb. "Now I want to get into the 3:55 range. I
just have to keep running faster." --Tim Layden

Freestyle Skiing
Not So Sweet Victory

For the past decade Norway's Kari Traa was the finest freestyle
skier never to win a world or Olympic title. Traa was a respected
technician who seemed primed to rule the moguls event if she
could muster more speed over the bumps and better extension on
her jumps. Last Friday in Whistler, B.C., after winning her first
moguls world championship, Traa, 27, admitted that she had known
the problem all along but couldn't stomach the remedy. It is,
after all, devilishly hard to fight off a chocolate craving. "I
lost some chocolate and lost some pounds," says Traa, who began
cutting back in 1999 and, last winter, after dropping 20 pounds
from her 5'6", 170-pound frame, won her second World Cup season
title in dual moguls. "Now I'm moving not so much fat."

This was no bite-sized habit. There was hot chocolate, baked
chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, cookies, cakes,
brownies. "Look, some people like whiskey," says Traa, a bronze
medalist at the 1998 Nagano Games. "I like chocolate. I still eat
it, but as a reward."

The restraint has helped propel Traa to the top of the World Cup
standings. Asked which form of her favorite confection she would
use to celebrate her triumph, Traa won't bite. "I can't tell
you," she says. "I must guess myself." --Brian Cazeneuve

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Kwan led a superb field to win her fifth title, receiving seven perfect 6.0s for her short program. COLOR PHOTO: VICTAH SAILER/PHOTO RUN Webb's long run at a sub-four ended indoors.

Dispatches

Luge coach Fred Zimny received the USOC's award for developmental
coach of the year. Zimny recruited Jean Racine into the sport
nine years ago. Four years later, when Racine turned 17 and was
burning out on luge, she says, Zimny told her "flat-out I didn't
have what it took to go to the Olympics" in that sport. Racine
and partner Jen Davidson are now the world's top-ranked pair in
women's bobsled, an event that will make its Olympic debut in
Salt Lake City...

The brakeman on Sweden's only world-class women's bobsled team
is none other than Lyudmila Engquist, the 1996 Olympic champ in
the 100-meter hurdles, who came back from breast cancer to win a
world bronze in '99...

Key IOC figure Dick Pound is Canadian, but he dealt a blow to
Toronto's hopes to land the 2008 Summer Olympics when he cited
Beijing as the clear front-runner and described Toronto and the
other bidders--Paris, Osaka and Istanbul--as "fallbacks." The
IOC will choose the 2008 host city at a session in Moscow this
July...

IOC director general Francois Carrard reiterated last week that
under no circumstances would the committee pull the 2004 Games
from Athens when its executive board meets in Dakar, Feb. 5-7.
Athens organizers have been plagued by delays in construction of
sports venues and hotels, and several of the committee's top
members have recently resigned or been fired...

With more than a year to go, fans have requested all but 23,300
of the 793,000 seats in the U.S. ticket allotment for the Salt
Lake City Games.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)