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World Figure Skating Championships : New Generation Takes the Spotlight This Week

Associated Press

Katarina Witt and Brian Boitano are gone. The dueling Carmens and battling Brians have passed their blades to another generation.

The new elite of international figure skating have their first major rendezvous at the world championships in Paris this week, battling for supremacy in the build-up to the next Winter Olympic Games three years from now.

Europe’s main challenge lies with veterans Alexandr Fadeev of the Soviet Union, the 1985 world champion, and West Germany’s Claudia Leistner, while the United States pins its hopes on maturing skaters like Jill Trenary and Chris Bowman and newcomer Kristi Yamaguchi, who puts her 4 feet 11 inches, 82 pounds frame against the world’s best in two events. The championships begin on Tuesday.

With each of the 1988 winners either retired or having turned professional, new world champions will be crowned in all four categories.

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Post-Olympic years traditionally give an early indication of fresh challengers for gold medals three years down the line although there are exceptions, as Witt proved to devastating effect.

In 1985, a year after the Sarajevo Olympics, the East German super star repeated as world champion, then hung around to dominate the sport for another three years instead of making way for new titlists.

Boitano was in the background behind Fadeev and the other big-name Brian, Canada’s Brian Orser, while future Olympic pairs champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov of the Soviet Union were still competing in junior competition, Trenary had not qualified for the American team yet and Bowman was regarded as a flashy, but undedicated, former child actor.

Witt, Boitano and Orser have now left the amateur stage, giving way to Trenary, Bowman and other individualists, while Grinkov and Gordeeva have emerged as the world’s top-ranked couple.

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The most competitive event at the Bercy Sports Palace, the first world championships to be staged in the French capital since 1958, will be the women’s tournament where the also-rans of recent years will vie for the medals.

With Witt, Canada’s Liz Manley and America’s Debi Thomas all having turned pro, the battle for gold will be between U.S. national champion Trenary, European champion Leister and Japan’s Midori Ito.

Trenary, Ito and Leistner finished 4-5-6 at the Calgary Olympics while the order switched to Leistner, Trenary and Ito at the 1988 world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

“I feel I’m the favorite at the worlds and I know what I have to do, " Trenary, 20, said after winning her second U.S. title at Baltimore last month.

Leistner, after years on the fringe of success, won the European crown in Birmingham, England, in January. The 24-year-old West German was a silver medalist at the 1983 world championships.

Ito, 20, delighted the Olympic crowd last year with her jumping ability and her happy demeanor and could benefit more than her rivals from the recent change of rule for the compulsory figures.

Compulsories, in which Ito does not excel, are being reduced from three to two this year and will count for 20 percent of the total mark, compared to 30 percent previously.

A new original program replaces the short program, giving the skaters more time -- 2 minutes, 40 seconds -- to do the required number of moves and counting for 30 percent of the mark.

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The final freeskating sequence is still worth 50 percent.

Ito beat both Trenary and Leistner in the free skating at last year’s worlds and Olympics. All three of them, however, will have to watch another jumper of Japanese origin, Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi, regarded by many as America’s fastest rising star, landed seven triple jumps and beat Trenary in the free skating at the U.S. championships.

The 17-year-old astounded the skating world when she qualified for two events, coming in second overall behind Trenary and winning the pairs with Rudi Galindo.

In Paris, Yamaguchi and Galindo may have to hope for a mistake from Gordeeva and Grinkov to win the gold.

In the men’s event, Fadeev continues his comeback after an injury-filled 1988 against compatriot Viktor Petrenko, who gained the bronze medal behind Boitano and Orser in Calgary.

Looking to take advantage of any slip-ups from the two Soviets will be Bowman and Canada’s Kurt Browning.

The dance event continues to be a Soviet stronghold with Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponamarenko now firm favorites after four years of second-place finishes behind the now-retired Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin.

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