No gold medal this time: Boitano 2nd


DETROIT -- Brian Boitano was the pro who couldn't lose. He was too experienced, too perfect, too artistic.

But a strange thing happened to Boitano and his comeback to a fifth American skating title.

He ran into a Montana cowboy who turned an ice show into the back lot of "West Side Story."

Scott Davis, playing a Jet from Leonard Bernstein's street play, scored one of the great upsets in skating history, beating Boitano and retaining his title in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last night.

The victory enabled Davis to emerge as one of the medal favorites at next month's Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Boitano will be there, too, after finishing second and earning the other American men's Olympic berth.

"I really didn't think I could do it," said Davis.

Boitano's reaction to the night?

"I've never been so nervous in all of my life," he said.

It was tough, glittering skating that left the performers panting and the crowd standing.

Aren Nielsen, a 25-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., gave the performance of his career to finish third and claim the Olympic alternate spot.

Todd Eldredge also came close to completing a successful comeback from two injury-riddled seasons. But the 1992 Olympian and former U.S. champion was flattened on his second triple jump and finished fourth.

The night belonged to Davis and Boitano.

It was a fiery, passionate Davis who showed up to take on Boitano, 30, the veteran professional and 1988 Olympic gold medalist who was returning to the world of competitive skating.

For the second straight year, Davis, a 21-year-old Montana native, played the role of the tough inner-city kid from "West Side Story."

But this time, Davis showed more than style. He skated with guts.

"I was surprised when I won last year," he said. "And I'm surprised right now."

Wearing black pants and a copper-colored shirt, he thrilled the Joe Louis Arena audience, landing six triple jumps, including two axels, the hardest maneuvers on ice.

He may have faded slightly in the last minute, failing to land a seventh triple jump. But it didn't matter. When he was done, he had won, and the crowd stood and roared.

"Near the end, the crowd went crazy, and that spurred me on," he said. "It was exciting."

When the scores were flashed, Davis pumped his fist, smiled and waved to the crowd in triumph.

"To retain my title is just amazing," he said.

Boitano wasn't amazed. He was simply relieved.

For months, he has lived with the expectations of being a veteran favorite.

"The only time I ever asked myself if this comeback was worth it was during the last two days," he said.

He was nervous. And unsteady.

But he also was a pro.

He may have the class and style, turning the music of Aaron Copland into artistry on ice. But he no longer has a full arsenal of triple jumps, and he could only win the hearts and minds of three judges who placed him first.

Skating first among the final group of competitors, Boitano landed one axel when he needed two.

"I was disappointed that I popped that last triple axel," he said. "The only thing is maybe it will make me more eager for the Olympics."

It was one last triple jump, a salchow, landed in the final 45 seconds, that gave Boitano his Olympic place.

His program was fluid and dramatic. But it just wasn't tough enough.

"I have to keep telling myself that I need two triple axels," he said. "In the pros, you do only one of each jump, and that's enough. Here, you've got to repeat yourself."

But this was just the prelude. The big show comes next month in the men's finals at Lillehammer, where Davis and Boitano will battle Canadians Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko and Ukraine's Viktor Petrenko.

"Actually, I'm relieved to be second," Boitano said. "Less pressure."

Earlier, in pairs, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand took the safe, predictable lead in the technical program. Skating a program that all but looked like an audition for an ice show, they won top marks from eight of nine judges.

Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen took a surprising second place.

Karen Courtland and Todd Reynolds were third.

What about the once-celebrated and since-separated performing waitress (Calla Urbanski) and truck driver (Rocky Marval)?

They were with new partners, but out of the top three.

Marval and Natasha Kuchiki were fourth, and Urbanski and Joseph Mero were fifth.

The pairs competition concludes tomorrow with the free skate, worth 66.7 percent of the overall score.

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