Kwan wins seventh Skate America title

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Alexei Yagudin dropped out of Skate America on Saturday night with a hip injury, and the Olympic gold medalist said he doesn't know when he'll compete again.

''I am worried, because it's just like darkness in front of me,'' he said. ''I really believe I will be back. I want that. I will be back.''

Yagudin, who turns 23 in March, said Friday that he has a degenerative hip defect that could force him into early retirement. The socket in his right hip doesn't cover the bone completely, so the two rub together and cause painful irritation.

Doctors said he would have developed problems eventually, regardless if he was an athlete. But because of the pounding his body takes, it showed up earlier.

He's gotten two injections to reduce the pain, including one Thursday. But it didn't seem to have any effect, as he woke up Saturday morning and couldn't move.

He practiced for only 20 minutes Saturday morning, pain shooting through his right leg every time he moved it. He told coach Tatiana Tarasova he wanted to try and skate, but did only three triple jumps during his warmup and repeatedly shook his right leg.

At one point, he skated to her and bent over, shaking his head.

When the judges called him to perform, Yagudin skated over to the judges table and spoke to them. He then went to the middle of the rink and bowed to the fans as the announcer told the crowd Yagudin was withdrawing with an injury.

The audience gave him a standing ovation, and Yagudin turned to wave at each side of the arena. As he skated off the ice, biting his lip, he turned back one more time, blowing kisses to the crowd.

It's the first time he's had to withdraw during a competition, he said.

Asked if he wondered if that might be the last time he's on the ice for a competition, Yagudin said yes.

''But I can't just stay and watch the other skaters,'' he said. ''So I'll try to do everything to be back.''

Yagudin has already seen three doctors for the problem and plans to meet with several more, including one next week. He said he probably won't be able to compete at Skate Canada next weekend.

''I don't want to damage it anymore,'' he said. ''I've damaged it enough the past two months.''

With Yagudin out, France's Brian Joubert won the men's program. Alexander Abt of Russia was second, and Matt Savoie of Peoria, Ill., was third.

Two-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss was fifth.

Earlier in the night, Michelle Kwan won her seventh Skate America title, just a week after she agreed to be a last-minute fill-in for injured Sarah Hughes.

With a fall and another botched jump, it certainly wasn't Kwan's best program. But with everyone else bumbling and stumbling, it was more than enough to win.

''This was icky,'' Kwan said, grimacing and screwing up her nose. ''And I've been feeling great all week.''

Ann Patrice McDonough and Ukraine's Elena Liashenko crashed in warmup, but it didn't hurt either of them. McDonough, the world junior champ last year, was second and Liashenko was third.

Jennifer Kirk, who had been in second after the short program, dropped to fourth.

''We were very shocked at the results,'' said Tom Zakrajsek, McDonough's coach. ''We were pleased with how she'd done and then the marks came up. We thought she'd be in fourth. To see that she's the silver medalist is icing on the cake, really.''

Yukari Nakano of Japan and Ludmila Nelidina of Russia caused a stir by landing triple axels within a half-hour of each other. They're the first women to do the jump in international competition since Midori Ito at the 1992 Olympics.

''I saw one in warmup and I was like, was that a ...? Wow!'' Kwan said.

Kwan was originally expected to sit out the season -- or at least skip the Grand Prix events -- after her disappointing bronze medal finish in Salt Lake City. After years of planning her life out months in advance, she figured she'd just go with the flow.

She got a new coach, Scott Williams, and came up with a few programs ''just in case.'' So when she got a call last Friday asking if she'd come to Skate America, she figured, why not?

And she seemed to be having more fun than she's had in years. Maybe even enough fun to convince her to go to nationals. And then maybe worlds.

''There's a very good chance I'll be there at nationals,'' she said. ''I have to work toward something, even if it's an imaginary line. If you don't compete, someone else wins. If you compete, at least you tried.

''It's like when is it enough? But it's always so tempting.''

If Kwan does go to nationals, she'll have to improve her free skate. She landed only four triple jumps, one in combination. She doubled her opening triple loop and then fell on her triple lutz.

The program didn't have her usual artistic flair, either.

''I didn't feel that great, I was a little stiff in the legs, a little uptight,'' she said. ''I see glimpses in my programs that the potential is incredible. I have lots of room to grow and I have to go home now and really train.''

In ice dancing, Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov of Ukraine staged a minor upset by winning. Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski, favored to win here after taking the bronze medal at the world championships last spring, were a surprising fourth.

Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostamorov of Russia were second, and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the United States were third.

All three of the top couples finished behind Chait and Sakhnovski at worlds.

''I'm totally in favor of this new (judging) system,'' said Igor Shpilband, Belbin and Agosto's coach. ''It's taken away pressure from the judges, from the other judges, the coaches, people in the federations. It's freeing them up and they don't have to answer to anybody.''

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