ICE SKATING: Bobeck unfurls standard with precision and joy

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The Independent Online


reports from Birmingham

Forget all the stories that preceded her across the Atlantic to the World Championships. Whatever anyone thought they knew about Nicole Bobek, all can now be certain of one thing - she can skate and that is, after all, what she came here to do.

At the National Exhibition Centre yesterday, the striking 17-year-old knocked the competition dead with a short programme that she unfurled with precision and finally sheer joy.

"I was nervous before I skated, and I tried to relax. I had a lot to prove out there,'' Bobek said. And prove it she did.

From the moment she nailed her opening combination of triple lutz and double toe-loop it was clear that the established names of women's amateur figure skating, Surya Bonaly, Olgar Markova and Lu Chen, were under threat. Once she had landed her triple toe-loop, her final jump, it was clear that it would simply be a question of how many judges placed her first. The answer was six.

Her single 5.9 for required elements and the five she gleaned for presentation catapulted her ahead of the Russian Markova, who won the short programme at the Europeans last month, and pushed China's Lu back into third place with the European champion, Bonaly, fourth.

"When I was through the triple toe-loop, it was such a big relief,'' Bobek said. "At that point, I had done all my jumping elements. The rest of the programme was sheer fun.''

But not for her rivals, who had all skated earlier and had to watch as their rankings slipped. Bonaly was the first to skate and the Frenchwoman again produced a flat programme. Markova, once she had completed her combination - the same as Bobek's but lacking the same flow - displayed grace and accuracy to go into the lead.

Lu Chen, skating two before Bobek, could not dislodge Markova despite a fluent, well-executed programme and the beautiful style of the petite Michelle Kwan, who was beaten to the United States title by Bobek, was placed behind Bonaly.

Only the newcomer, who brought with her so much media baggage, could change the order of things then, which she duly did, but this section counts for only a third of the final mark. Most of the skaters feel more comfortable in the free programme where they can express themselves rather than have to gear their performance to fitting in the required elements.

It is a shame that Bobek and the others are not testing themselves against either the title holder, Yuka Sato of Japan, or the Olympic champion, Oksana Baiul of Ukraine, who have left the amateur ranks. Nevertheless, the women's free should provide the championships with a rousing finale today, when Jenna Arrowsmith, Britain's 14-year-old representative, will have another opportunity to experience the heady atmosphere in the arena, which she coped with admirably yesterday.

If prizes were awarded for applause and the number of flowers thrown from the crowd then the Finns Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko would have become ice dance world champions last night. As it was, their choice of music - Yesterday and A Hard Day's Night - proved prophetic.

Oksana Grischuk and Evgeny Platov, the Russian defending champions, failed to rouse the packed house but they impressed the judges with their low-key romantic routine and kept their crown.