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Line between eligibles and pros further obscured
Posted: Monday December 14, 1998 05:34 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Now that Michelle Kwan and Alexei Yagudin are world champions on both figure skating levels, maybe it's time for some unification in the sport.
Kwan and Yagudin, who won the world titles for Olympic-eligible skaters in April, added the World Professional Figure Skating Championships crowns on Saturday. They took advantage of the sanctioning of 10 open events by the International Skating Union, which runs eligible-level skating.
Now they head back to such events as their national championships and the other worlds.
Is all of this necessary?
"It's a nice idea for amateur and professional skaters to compete together," said the 18-year-old Yagudin, who was ill at the Nagano Olympics and finished fifth. "I liked it very much and would do it again."
Kwan, the biggest star in the sport now that Tara Lipinski has gone the tour route and is being held out of the significant professional competitions, admitted to being somewhat in awe of the skaters surrounding her.
"If the roof came down, the whole history of figure skating would come down with it," Kwan said of being on the ice with Katarina Witt, Oksana Baiul, Yuka Sato, Lu Chen and Nicole Bobek.
"I had the chills in the warmup today. I looked at Oksana and saw her '94 performance at the Olympics and Katarina and saw her at the Olympics, and Lulu at worlds ... It was like a flashback. I saw all their performances right before my eyes."
What fans would like to see is not something akin to the tennis tours, with several events on different continents each weekend. When viewers turn on the television set and see a figure skating competition, they'd like to have an idea just what that event means and who is in it? Was it created for television, or does it have a history?
"Where are all the skaters at the top going to go and where are the new skaters coming up going to go?" asked James Disbrow, president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. "The ISU is the father figure, if you will, the leading organization. It has provided to date all of the significant events all these skaters are in.
"But it isn't about the strongest federation or not wanting to hurt ISU relationships, but to have a look at how we will work this together.
"It's the entertainers vs. the competitors, and how do we blend this together? We're trying to do it, but it's been a tough year.
"I'm worried we are going to dilute ourselves."
The skaters, like the public, would benefit from some sort of reorganization. So would the ISU, and so would the professional tours.
Disbrow believes the sport has six months to make some concrete plans for the future. The ISU already has its Grand Prix series and the world championships. But the Grand Prix was watered down this year by the open competitions, particularly with Kwan skating only in the pro-ams.
Nearly every professional skater isn't interested in returning to a series of events conducted under ISU rules, in which quads for the men and multiple triple jumps for the women are a necessity. Those pros are far removed from the jumping-jack world that leads to the Olympics.
But they do like the idea of measuring themselves against the Kwans and Yagudins in a setting where artistry, skating maturity and entertainment value are paramount."I believe all of the skating world is in somewhat of a dilemma," Disbrow said. "The key factor is the eligible and ineligible skaters and how all of this interplays. Nobody has a hardcore answer at this moment."
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