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FIGURE SKATING: Kulik takes Skaters' Championship lead

Source: AP News
Date: December 7, 2001
Author: Joseph White

WASHINGTON (December 7, 2001 10:58 PM EST) - Four years later, without the quad and the yellow shirt, "Rhapsody in Blue" still works for Ilia Kulik.

Kulik reprised the routine that he used to win the gold medal in Nagano to take the lead after the technical program Friday night at the professional Skaters' Championship.

The only changes were the quad, which he left out, and the unmistakable "giraffe" shirt, which he donated to a cafe shortly after the 1998 Olympics.

"I actually was surprised that it would be so good," Kulik said. "It's just somewhere inside; you never forget it. I feel like this program I probably could do my whole life long."

Kulik said he performed the routine at least 70 times on tour after the Olympics, and he did it again in a celebration of Olympic champions earlier this week in Dallas.

On Friday night, he was nearly flawless, but he was also nearly matched by 35-year-old Kurt Browning, who is 11 years older and displayed his usual impeccable footwork in his routine to U-2's "Elevation."

Kulik and Browning got all 9.8s and 9.9s from the judges, but Kulik held the edge because his technical merit scores were better. However, Kulik is improving as a showman.

"He is starting to get how to connect with the people," Browning said. "I think that's starting to come through. He's going to be really dangerous when that starts to happen.

"It's a rare moment when a skater can make other skaters fans. When he's that good, it's 'OK, all right.' When you're winning your peers' admiration, that's saying something for sure."

Brian Orser was third, followed by Steven Cousins and Philippe Candeloro, whose use of props in a routine to the "Castaway" soundtrack violated the rules.

In the pairs, Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev took the lead with an innovative but slightly sluggish routine that included a rare throw jump out of a death spiral.

Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen were second, followed by Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.

Later Friday, Sato skated again in the women's event, which also featured Kristi Yamaguchi in her first head-to-head competition in four years.

The Skaters' Championship is technically a new event, but it replaces the World Professional Figure Skating Championships and uses essentially the same format.