Qualifying rounds cut short program field to 30

Updated: March 15, 2005, 4:38 PM ET
Associated Press

MOSCOW -- Michelle Kwan will have some high-profile company in Wednesday's qualifying at the World Figure Skating Championships, including last year's winner and a former world champion.

In the draw for the afternoon group, five-time world champion Kwan skates fourth, 2002 winner Irina Slutskaya of Russia is sixth and defending champion Shizuka Arakawa of Japan is eighth.

"The group is going to be hard," Kwan said, "but now with the new system, it is better for us."

The International Skating Union's new scoring system is making its worlds debut and already has run into problems. Chinese skater Li Chengjiang and American champion Johnny Weir switched places after Li was found to have been erroneously credited with no points for his final spin. An ISU statement blamed the problem to "human error."

The system, which gives individual marks to each element of a program rather than an overall technical rating, has been used at Grand Prix events the past two seasons. Kwan has stayed off that circuit but she's been studying the system.

"I have been analyzing quite a bit the last few months, looking at past GP finals," Kwan said. "I feel pretty confident. It will definitely be interesting."

Her practices to the "Bolero" routine, choreographed by Christopher Dean, have been impressive. She was even trying triple-triples, something she has not done in competition since the qualifying round at the 2002 worlds.

She also has been showing more intricate spins and footwork than in previous worlds.

Slutskaya beat Kwan at the 2002 worlds. But in the 2003-04 season she had an inflammation of the heart lining and finished ninth at the last worlds in Germany. This year, however, she's unbeaten in six major competitions, including a victory over Kwan in an invitational.

Slutskaya has beaten Kwan nine times since 2000, although Kwan usually prevails in world championships.

Kwan, however, didn't win in Germany, either. That title went to Arakawa. She did a triple-triple-double and triple-triple in Dortmund, which counts heavily in the new system.

This season she has been having problems with new boots.

"I am trying not to think about it," Arakawa said, adding that there's good side to the problem. "One aspect of struggling with the boots is that I don't have time to feel the pressure of defending the title. I just want to get on the ice and show what I can do."

The qualifying rounds cut the field for the short program to 30, and 25 percent of the qualifying round score is added to the total of the free and short programs for the final score.

In the morning group, former European champion Julia Sebestyen of Hungary drew the unfortunate first position. Sasha Cohen of the United States, last year's world silver medalist, drew fifth and Miki Ando of Japan, the only woman to complete a quadruple jump in competition, will start 15th.

"For the qualifications, I will have to see in the morning how I feel," Ando said. "For the free I want to try the quad."

Ando was fourth in the world championships last year.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press