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Winter Olympics: Golden edge for Kulik

THE Olympic medals for men's figure skating were being presented in the centre of the White Ring arena - gold for Russia's Ilia Kulik, silver for Canada's Elvis Stojko and bronze for France's swashbuckling Philippe Candeloro.

Britain's Steven Cousins, sixth going into last night's free- skating programme and sixth going out of it, looked down wistfully from the stands. "It's alright," he said. "But no one remembers sixth."

After errors by the two skaters above him - Todd Eldredge of the United States and the apparently flu-ridden Alexei Yagudin of Russia - a glimmer of a medal chance appeared before the Welshman who now lives and trains in Canada. But, not for the first time in a career which has spanned three Olympics, his prospects were diminished by a fall. On this occasion, it was the triple axel which formed the second jump in his programme.

"I had gone into the arena ready to do a quad, but that plan changed when I fell on my bum," he said. "When things like that happen you cut your losses and make sure the rest of your programme is clear."

That was something Cousins nearly managed to do, although a decision to opt for a double rather than the scheduled triple toe loop was something that galled him afterwards. "That was even worse than falling," he said. "If I had finished sixth and skated well, I would be the first to turn cartwheels. But I didn't skate up to my expectations. And just to rub salt into the wounds, the door was open for a medal."

The fair-haired Kulik was one of only two in the field to manage a quad jump - the other being Zhengxin Guo of China. But his assurance and grace on the ice won him the prize.

Stojko, who has been criticised - and perhaps marked down - in the past for the relentlessly macho character of his routine, performed eight triple jumps without falling, but gave a performance that was laboured by his own standards. His grimace of pain at the end gave a clue.

Cousins, who trains with Stojko, offered an explanation. "Elvis has been injured for three weeks with a groin strain, but he has kept it quiet," he said. "Elvis won his battle out there. He skated brilliantly. He epitomises the term Olympic champion."

Stojko, who it was later revealed had injured himself at last month's Canadian championships, was taken straight to hospital in obvious pain after the medal ceremony.

Kulik's performance may have made the greatest impact on the judges, but Candeloro wowed the audience. They bombarded him with flowers after a performance in the character and dress of the Fourth Musketeer, D'Artagnan. The Frenchman appeared to be daring the judges - towards whom he addressed two ironic bows and sword strokes - to mark him down. In terms of presentation, at least, they were unable to resist.