Nikodinov climbs to second in Four Continents skating
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Angela Nikodinov glanced at the television monitor, hoping to see her name somewhere in the top five. What a surprise to find it listed second.
Japanese national champion Fumie Suguri held off a comeback by Nikodinov to win the Four Continents figure skating championship Saturday. The American had a strong free skate and moved up from seventh after the short program.
When Nikodinov saw the results, she was stunned.
"I thought there was a mistake," she recalled. "I had my stuff to go back to the hotel. I thought maybe I got fourth or fifth. I saw second and I thought, 'Oh my God.' It was a big surprise."
Suguri won with a clean routine that featured five triple jumps and scored high on technical merit. Teammate Yoshie Onda was third at the arena where the Olympic competition will be held next February.
Nikodinov, last year's Four Continents champion, took third at nationals two weeks ago behind Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes. She arrived in Utah to find a newspaper headline that said she should win.
"Coming in here, I felt like I had to compete with myself," she said. "I wondered, 'How am I going to top nationals?' and that's the wrong way to approach it. We had that day before the long, and I sat down and focused."
Nikodinov performed almost flawlessly through the first three minutes of her free skate, especially in nailing a triple salchow. But in the final 30 seconds she stepped out of a triple lutz and doubled a triple toe loop.
"The sal is the hardest jump for me. I don't know why," Nikodinov said. "I was feeling unbelievable, like I could top nationals. I think I was just a little too excited and I didn't take my time."
Nikodinov said the pressure wore her down in the short program.
"After the short, being in seventh was amazing. I kept thinking it was a nightmare," she said. "So today, I totally forgot about placements, judging and totally skated my heart out. I fought through it."
Tatiana Malinina of Uzbekistan, the short program leader and 1999 Four Continents champion, fell to fourth. She looked tired and had a slow, uninspired performance in the free skate, worth two-thirds of the total score.
American Jennifer Kirk, 16, the reigning world junior champion, placed fifth.
Kirk was beaming after completing a clean program that included seven triples, but her smile faded when the scoreboard showed artistic marks ranging from 5.4 to 5.8, dropping her from fourth after the short program.
"I didn't see anybody else skate. I'm just happy with the way I skated. You can't control the marks," said Kirk, the last athlete on the ice.
A third American, Amber Corwin, was seventh.
Kirk's result was more puzzling because she skated well, hitting every element. The judges penalized her, but the flag-waving, cheering fans liked what they saw.
"I just have to work on my skating overall. They can't all be jumps," Kirk said. "What the judges tell you is a message, so I have to work from the judges' marks. I also have to be happy with the way I skated both times."
Earlier Saturday, U.S. Skating officials disclosed that Todd Eldredge, who withdrew from Four Continents with a jammed left ankle, has a bruised bone and a cyst in a joint below the ankle.
Eldredge, the 1996 world champion, won't compete at next weekend's Grand Prix finals in Tokyo. He hopes to return for the World Figure Skating Championships next month in Vancouver.