Wedding Presents? Make Theirs Bronze : Skating: Strange finish gives Meno and Sand third place at World Championships.


Those bronze medals hanging around the necks of Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, the newly appointed third-best figure skating pairs team in the world?

Don't ask them how they got there.

They couldn't tell you.

Not many people could, and fewer even made the attempt.

It had something to do with the most frightening word in figure skating-- ordinals --and something to do with the German team falling on its matching teal keisters and something to do with having more fourth-place scores than the Russians and, quite possibly, something to do with the July 22 wedding date awaiting Meno and Sand.

Wednesday night at the World Figure Skating Championships, the judges got together and decided to send the happy couple home with something to cherish for a lifetime.

"We don't need any wedding presents," Meno said after the evening's mind-numbing turn of events.

"This is enough."

From where Sand and Meno stood--in the NBC television booth, already in their sweat suits, waiting for the final few pairs to complete their long programs--they were staring directly at fifth place.

The gold was going to go to the Czechs, Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny.

Silver belonged to the Russian team of Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov.

Bronze? It seemed altogether out of the question for Meno and Sand, who skated a clean, tight long program--good enough for third--but were burdened with their fifth-place showing in Tuesday's short program.

Ahead of them, at least momentarily, was the German duo of Mandy Wotzel and Ingo Steuer. Both Wotzel and Steuer fell during Wednesday's long program, but they were playing with a big lead. Tuesday, they finished second in the short program, three significant notches ahead of Meno and Sand.

As the second Russian pair, Marina Eltsova and Andrey Bushkov, wound down the last routine of the night, Meno lowered her head and conceded the obvious.

"I thought we'd be fifth," she said. "I was getting ready to pick up my skates and leave.

"All of a sudden, there's this big roar from the crowd. I looked up at the scoreboard, and we're in third."

It was hard to believe, and even harder for Meno to breathe.

"Todd grabbed me and picked me up and wouldn't let me down," she said, laughing. "I thought he was going to squeeze me to death."

John Nicks, the crusty old Brit who coaches Meno and Sand, offered an explanation: "The German pair skated badly. Then, we needed someone to get between us and the Germans."

In the long program standings, Nicks meant. If Meno-Sand finished third and Wotzel-Steuer fourth, the bronze would go to Wotzel-Steuer. Meno and Sand needed the final team on the ice, Eltsova-Bushkov, to finish fourth in the long program. Not any higher, not any lower.

"As usual," Nicks drolly observed, "the Russians were very helpful."

With an assist from the American judge, Franklin Nelson, who ranked Eltsova-Bushkov second and Wotzel-Steuer fifth, Meno and Sand were shoe-horned onto the winner's podium, where they accepted the first U.S. pairs medal at the World Championships since 1991.

That medal, a bronze, was won by Sand and Natasha Kuchiki, who became the odd partner out at Nicks' Costa Mesa training camp when Meno happened upon the scene shortly after.

Someone leaned into the winning huddle and provided a mathematical equation that, surprisingly, everybody appeared to understand:

"You finished third by having more fourths."

Makes sense in figure skating.

"There was another issue at play here," Nicks said. "After the short program, most of the people in the skating community felt (Meno and Sand) should have been fourth, not fifth. I'm not saying the judges wanted to even things up, but Todd and Jenni came into tonight with a lot of support."

Nicks wished the bronze medalists "the best in their future life. It's been a wonderful year for Todd and Jenni, and there's more to come."

Pause for effect.

"I have been hired to do the choreography at the wedding," Nicks quipped. "And I can assure you, the marks will be good."

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