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Ice Queens
E.M. Swift
March 25, 1991
Kristi Yamaguchi led a U.S. sweep at the world figure skating championships
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March 25, 1991

Ice Queens

Kristi Yamaguchi led a U.S. sweep at the world figure skating championships

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That Shriek? The one that reverberated through Munich's Olympiahalle last Saturday afternoon? Could it really have come from the new world ladies' figure skating champion, Kristi Yamaguchi of Fremont, Calif., upon receiving her first-ever perfect 6.0 mark for artistic impression? Naaah. Couldn't have been quiet Kristi.

That fearsome wail must surely have emanated from some other source. Perhaps from U.S. Figure Skating Association vice-president Claire Ferguson, when it suddenly became clear that Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan had given the Americans a clean sweep of the gold, silver and bronze medals, the first time one nation had gone 1-2-3 in a women's world championship. Or maybe it was a shriek of pain as some unthinking wretch poked Japan's Midori Ito in the ribs to ask if she would mind posing over there by the boards for a snapshot. Or could it have been an anguished yelp from France's Surya Bonaly, upon hearing that the quadruple jump she had apparently landed—immediately before her belly flop—may not have been a full four revolutions after all?

Nope, it was Yama, as her friends call her. "I'm telling you, you guys don't know her," said Yamaguchi's coach, Christy Kjarsgaard Ness, to some members of the press. "Little, quiet Kristi shrieked."

In reliving the week of the world championships, let us dispense with the dance competition first. If ice dancing ever was truly sport, as opposed to theater, this year it went beyond the fringe, the chiffon, the taffeta and everything else. Bizarre? Let's put it this way: Bronze medalists Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin of the Soviet Union appeared to open their free dance program in a woodland, with Zhulin hopping like a rabbit around Usova, who was kneeling like a shrub. What happened next was unclear—lots of interpretzeling of body parts, certainly—though the thematic confusion might have been cleared up had the Soviet dancers provided the judges and media with a crib sheet explaining their program's message.

No such mistake was made by the ice dance winners, Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France, who issued a press release explaining that they would be skating Missing II, a sequel to Missing, last year's ice dancing hit about repression in a South American dictatorship. In Missing II, the dictatorship is over! This must have been terribly good news to the audience, because the Duchesnays received their first standing ovation merely for showing up in tattered garments and looking tortured. The judges, apparently despairing of trying to put marks on that which should merely be critiqued, let the applause-o-meter decide this one.

Paul was born in France and Isabelle in Canada, where they were both raised. They have trained in Germany since 1985, are coached by a Czech, Martin Skotnicky, and choreographed by a Brit, Christopher Dean, late of Torvill and Dean, the 1984 Olympic gold medalists in dance. Lovers and other strangers also are in their camp since Dean is engaged to marry Isabelle, who is Paul's sister, on May 18. With so many people rooting for them, one had the feeling the Duchesnays would have won for skating Jack and Jill Went up the Hill.

The pairs competition was considerably more uplifting. On March 13, it produced a surprise bronze medal for the U.S. as 27-year-old Todd Sand of Costa Mesa, Calif., and 14-year-old Natasha Kuchiki of Los Angeles, who have been skating together only 18 months, moved from 11th place at the 1990 worlds all the way up to third. But the finest performance of the entire championships was turned in by Natalia Mishkutienok and Artur Dmitriev of the Soviet Union, the latest in a long line of championship Soviet pairs.

Mishkutienok, 20, and Dmitriev, 23, train five days a week with a choreographer from Leningrad's famed Kirov Ballet. Natalia, called Natasha, is as flexible as Gumby and can hoist her ankle above her head while Dmitriev holds her upraised skate and spins her almost flat to the ice, all this accomplished with no more effort than most people would expend falling off a log. That move, incidentally, is called Natasha's Spin, presumably because there is no one else who can do it.

Mishkutienok and Dmitriev had a theme to their free skate program. "She's a light, light cloud," said their coach, Tamara Moskvina. "He's a nice-looking young man who's dreaming about finding his cloud." The two of them meshed so effortlessly during their spins and lifts, that the 5'2½", 110-pound Mishkutienok appeared to be literally weightless, as if she might catch a breeze and drift away at any moment. The 4½-minute program closed with a death spiral, leading into a full, languorous split on the ice, back into another death spiral, leading into Natasha's Spin until she was levitated back into the sky...and oh, heck, it was pure magic.

The men's competition went pretty much according to form, with Kurt Browning of Canada winning his third straight world title—"his hat trick," in the words of Dewey Browning, Kurt's father—this time over the stylish Soviet, Viktor Petrenko. The overall quality of the final five men was quite high, with Browning leading the way by landing three triple-triple combinations that earned him eight 5.9's for technical merit. "Whenever you see a wall of 5.9's you are looking at the winner," said Toller Cranston, who received a mild shock earlier in the evening when his coaching charge, Christopher Bowman, tried the first quad of his career—he fell—just two days after landing his first perfect one in practice. "Christopher's got the courage of Hercules," said Toller, who, in boarding the irrepressible Bowman for the past six months, can claim the labors. Still, Hercules fell two notches from his 1990 standing to finish fifth.

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