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No Rocky sequel U.S. finds it can't cover up blue collars with sequins


ALBERTVILLE, France -- They skated at the chorus line level of accomplishment.

Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marvel crashed and burned.

The music for the first portion of their freestyle program in Olympic pairs figure skating was "Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss.

It should have been "I Am The Walrus," by the Beatles.

When the program that dropped them from seventh to 10th place in a field of 18 reached its merciful conclusion, Team Rocky -- or Rocky and Bulltwinkle, if you prefer -- looked more like Rocky Balboa after his war with Apollo Creed.

Yo, Adrian . . .

You want to mop the blood off the ice so the Russians can skate? Good thing they don't have a guy who skates out with a hook . . .

"You probably can't write it, but I really was a piece of ----," Calla said, still feisty after making a major error in each musical segment of a performance where she and Rocky were so out of sync it was like watching a Japanese movie dubbed into Russian.

Ron Ludington, a former pairs skater who coaches Team Rocky, could not have agreed more.

"It's one of those nights when you just feel like going out and getting drunk," Ludington said. "Calla had an early breakdown and it just carried through the rest of the program."

In a nice bit of irony, Urbanski's favorite hangout in the athletes' village at Brides-les-Bains is a bar named "Le Phoque" -- The Seal.

Last night she skated like Flipper.

But shed no tears of patriotic wrath for the 31-year-old waitress at Wilmington, Del.'s Kid Shelleen's or for the 26-year-old trucking entrepreneur from that skating hotspot, New Egypt, N.J.

In the modern world of athletics, you get what you pay for. Urbanski and Marval captured our imaginations with the story they brought with them to the Winter Olympics. But in an elitist sport filled with parents willing to pay six figures a year for the skating educations of their darlings, Team Rocky still was holding shopping mall fund-raisers a week before they flew here.

And with 1.5 billion people watching worldwide, they were able to live their dream.

We can be glad about that, celebrate with them.

That they came here as the No. 1 U.S. pair is sad. It is an indictment of the U.S. Figure Skating program. There is no way in Siberia two U.S. athletes should have to go into hock to represent their country, no way Calla Urbanski should be hustling Yuppieburgers by night and skating six-hour practice sessions by day.

For the Russians who won last night, the magnificent Artur Dmitriev and Natalia Michkouteniok, pairs skating is ballet on ice, Swan Lake on the rocks.

For Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval it is more battle than ballet. And in the acute focus that an Olympics brings to one of the most beautiful events in sport, the battlers were no match for the balleteers.

Nor was it skating's finest hour.

Veteran observers of what some refer to sneeringly -- and wrongly -- as an Olympic dwarf toss say the pairs here produced some of the worst skating ever seen in a major international event.

"I would have to agree with that," Ludington said. "I have seen each pair here skate better than it did in the two programs. Sometimes it happens. Even Natalia missed her triple and almost went down. It's rare to see an Olympic final where each of the medalists have a major flaw in their program."

For the skaters from what is now the Unified Team, it is hard work that will perhaps get them out of their wretched, crumbling, ideologically humiliated former empire. The Uni pair of Elena Betchke and Denis Petrov took the silver, edging Canadians Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, who had a shot at gold until she fell on an opening throw-triple jump.

Lucrative ice show contracts await them all.

Rocky and Bulltwinkle came to the end of their excellent adventure, tires flat and engine leaking oil. They still have the Worlds to skate, but we will always remember them responding to the ovation from the USA rooting section when they skated out for their warmups.

And for the glow that memory leaves us, it will be enough.

I asked Calla, who was perky and vivacious as if they had won the gold, if they would consider a change of program, of music and costume to better capitalize on the Frankie and Johnnie theme their backgrounds have suggested since an upset victory in the U.S. Nationals.

Maybe they should start off with something like "One for the Road" instead of the soaring strains of Strauss' powerful tone poem.

"That's something we might do for a show program," Calla said, "But I'm not going to skate out there with a tray. The problem tonight was not our material, it was just the way we skated."

At 31, a Grandma Moses age in a sport dominated by gum-snappers just out of braces, Calla Urbanski talks bravely about coming back to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

I don't mean this unkindly, but . . .

If a 33-year-old woman is good enough to make the team after finishing 10th here, then we ought to take a bulldozer to the national skating program.

Maybe it's time for Calla to start looking at coaching, passing on what she has learned from her wonderful winter in the limelight.

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