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SHE CUT A FINE FIGURE
E.M. Swift
March 19, 1990
The despised compulsories Jill Trenary exploited them a last time at the worlds
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March 19, 1990

She Cut A Fine Figure

The despised compulsories Jill Trenary exploited them a last time at the worlds

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Call it the revenge of the compulsory figures, those arcane and archaic ice tracings that give the sport of figure skating its name. They are unloved by skaters, unfathomable to spectators and ignored by television, which is why, starting next year, the compulsories will go the way of the dodo bird. They have been voted out of existence by the International Skating Union.

But last week at the World Figure Skating Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the lame-duck compulsories—still worth 20% of the scoring—left a memorable epitaph in the elegant form of Jill Trenary, the new ladies' champion. If this was revenge, it was sweet, for the 21-year-old Trenary, a gracious and deserving winner, had paid her emotional dues on the road to her first world title.

This is not to say that the compulsories were the skating highlight of the week. That moment, celebrated by a two-minute standing ovation, belonged to Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, the French dance couple who are brother and sister. Skating to a long program that depicted, in a wrenching crescendo, the struggle for human rights in South America, the Duchesnays were easily the week's most charismatic and original performers. Of course, they have been that since bursting into prominence with their jungle program at the 1988 Winter Olympics. It's just that they have never been marked that way by the judges. An appreciative Soviet audience nearly rioted this year when, at the European championships in Leningrad, the Duchesnays were placed third, behind two Soviet couples. But in Halifax the judges finally gave in, awarding the Duchesnays five 6.0's for artistic impression in their long program, and the silver medal overall, behind defending champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko of the U.S.S.R.

In the men's competition, 23-year-old Kurt Browning became the first Canadian man to successfully defend his world championship. The victory turned around a season that had given his two principal rivals—Christopher Bowman of the U.S. and Viktor Petrenko of the Soviet Union—plenty of reason for hope. In February, Browning put on a disappointing show at the Canadian championships, barely prevailing over 17-year-old upstart Elvis Stojkow. Browning's training habits were questioned. His trademark quadruple toe loop had deserted him. And fans began wondering if his 1989 world title had been a fluke. Browning came to Halifax with a lot to prove.

So did Bowman, whose training habits this year had been openly repudiated by Frank Carroll, his longtime coach. Carroll has been singing variations on the same tune since the 22-year-old Bowman was five. "People don't know how I have literally had to drag this boy up the podium so that he is now the second in the world," Carroll recently said.

A month before the U.S. championships in Salt Lake City, Bowman, overweight and undertrained, finally began training seriously. During the championships he developed back spasms that made it painful to lift his arms, massacring his short program, and he withdrew from the competition. The crown of U.S. skating went to a likable and promising 18-year-old. Todd Eldredge from South Chatham, Mass. Bowman qualified because he had got a medal in 1989, but in Halifax a host of disapproving judges waited in ambush for him.

Going into last Thursday's free skating program, which was worth 50% of the scoring, the 20-year-old Petrenko had a slim lead over Browning and looked like a skater on the brink of greatness. But Petrenko has a history of running out of petrol. Sure enough, after landing a flawless triple Axel-triple toe loop combination in the opening seconds of his long program, Petrenko slowly wound down, completing only six of the eight triples he had planned and singling a double Axel during a strangely flat performance that left the door open for Browning.

Browning's style is nothing if not energetic, and in contrast to Petrenko, he dazzled the partisan crowd with such vitality that it seemed as if at the end of his 4½-minute program he was fully capable of running through the whole thing again. Even without his quad, which he turned into a triple toe loop-double toe loop at the last moment. Browning unleashed an impressive array of technical skills. And while a couple of the landings were rocky on his seven triple jumps, his was still the best performance of the night, good enough for the gold.

The last skater was Bowman, mired in fifth place after the compulsories and the short program. His Latin-style adlibbed long program can only be described as vintage Bowman. Preening before the judges, cha-cha-cha-ing to the audience, mugging for the cameras, he seemed to have skated straight off a Copacabana set where he had been cast in the role of a gigolo-waiter. Things were going fairly well until, about 30 seconds into his program, he stumbled on his triple Axel-double loop combination, whereupon the side of Bowman that he calls "Hans Brinker from hell" took over. Deciding that "Gee, this is a really good program, but I'm skating against Viktor and Kurt," Bowman chucked his prepared routine and began "jumping my brains out" to try to rack up a few more technical points.

The brains were the first to go. Next he ditched his triple loop and replaced it with a triple Axel. Unfortunately, the triple Axel has never been a Bowman forte, and he singled it. Then he inserted a triple loop in a spot where he had planned only footwork. All the attendant little touches, the arm movements and choreography that are months in the perfecting, were altered, replaced by "interesting movements," as Bowman would later describe them. Bowman was skating by the seat of his pants. Carroll watched, seething. "It is always interesting to see a student's new program unveiled at the world championships," he said dryly upon the event's conclusion. "I was in total shock. Yes, I am angry. I ask myself, Why do I have the only maniac in figure skating?"

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