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Saturday, February 9, 2002
Updated: February 10, 12:57 PM ET
Berezhnaya-Sikharulidze impress the judges

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- Yelena Berezhnaya doesn't look back. Not at the glory or misfortunes that have filled her figure skating career. Not at the success Russian or Soviet pairs have had in the Olympics.

So when Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the short program Saturday night at the Winter Games, edging Canadian world champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Berezhnaya ignored history.

Jamie Sale
Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier are able to laugh, because they waited until taking their bows to fall to the ice.

"I didn't count how many years everybody had won," she said, referring to her nation's pairs gold-medal streak that dates to the 1964 Games. "We have to compete here like we aren't like anybody else. I don't think about 1,000 years ago. We just have to do what we have to do."

Seven of the nine judges gave them the highest marks for their display of precision skating typical of the Russians.

"It's dedication, it's enthusiasm, tradition and art in sport, education in theater, psychology and the quality to adjust to any circumstance," said Russian coach Tamara Moskvina, who has trained three Olympic champion pairs. "That is the history of our country."

Sale and Pelletier have their own victory string, nine, three times over Berezhnaya-Sikharulidze. To make it 10 in a row, they'll have to overtake the Russians in the free skate Monday night, worth two-thirds of the total score.

"We're not trying to beat the Russians," Pelletier said. "We are competing for Jamie and David. If I am going out to beat the Russians, I am going to kill myself. That is not how competition works."

China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo were third. Americans Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman were fifth after a slightly flawed program.

The other American pair, Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, were 11th after she fell twice.

The Russians' program flowed from beginning to end, and their side-by-side triple toe loops were smooth and in complete unison. Their split double twist was so strong he placed his arms by his side while she was airborne, then had time to reach up and catch her.

It's dedication, it's enthusiasm, tradition and art in sport, education in theater, psychology and the quality to adjust to any circumstance. That is the history of our country.
Russian pairs coach Tamara Moskvina

They pumped their fists and hugged warmly before he kissed her on the head at the end of their short program.

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze won two world titles after a second-place finish at the 1998 Games. Still, they have had their problems since Nagano.

In 2000, Berezhnaya failed a drug test, blaming an over-the-counter cold medicine. They withdrew from the world championships, then were suspended for three months by the International Skating Union and stripped of their European crown.

The Russians also skipped the European championships last month because of his leg injury. And Berezhnaya's face swelled after going to a tanning salon earlier this week.

That hardly was the worst to happen to Berezhnaya, who missed much of 1996 after her former partner, Oleg Shliakov, accidentally sliced her head with his skate while they practiced a spin. Berezhnaya barely escaped injuries to her brain, and after teaming with Sikharulidze, the pair has been among the world's best.

"Many things happened in the last four years, good and bad," Sikharulidze said. "To be here and skate well is just great."

The leaders are training partners in Hackensack, N.J., with three-time U.S. champions Ina and Zimmerman, who took the ice to hundreds of waving flags.

Zimmerman, in his Olympic debut, and Ina, in her third games, skated well, but not perfectly. He added a side hop to his triple jump and he momentarily lost his balance on a camel spin, despite not falling out of sync with Ina.

"If he would have two-footed it," a chuckling Ina said of the jump, "it would have looked a lot nicer."

With the crowd chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A," their lowest marks came from the American judge, which surprised them.

Ina also was surprised to be one of eight athletes chosen to meet President Bush before the opening ceremony Friday night.

"That was an extremely 'WOW' moment of my life," she said.

Sale and Pelletier's playful routine to "Jalousie" included a move where she places her hand atop his head and bounces him as if he were a basketball. Their combination lift featured an unusual cartwheel dismount.

Seconds after the music ended, Pelletier fell, bringing Sale down with him. Both laughed as they stood up, knowing that little miscue didn't count.

"I said, 'I cannot believe I came all the way here to do that,"' Pelletier said. "The WWF, we're sure, will like this. I hope nobody thought we did it on purpose. You don't want to end your program on your butt -- not here, anyway."

The Chinese, medalists at worlds the last three years after a fifth at Nagano, featured a huge throw triple loop in which she seemed headed for the cheap seats before landing in perfect form. But they lacked spark and when he made an extra turn on their side-by-side spins, it dropped them to third, where even the Chinese judge had them.