Old guys moan as new ones skate to front of leaderboard LILLEHAMMER 94


HAMAR, Norway -- The two former Olympic champions, Brian Boitano and Viktor Petrenko, left the ice muttering to themselves.

The world champion, Kurt Browning, was last seen leaving the "kiss and cry area" wiping away a tear.

And the leader was a guy in white lace gloves and matching collar named Alexei.

"I think it was just a weird night," American Scott Davis said.


Last night, unheralded Alexei Urmanov of Russia took the lead in what was billed as the greatest men's skating competition in history.

Canada's Elvis Stojko was second, France's Philippe Candeloro was third and Davis was fourth heading into tomorrow's long program, worth 66.7 percent of the overall score.

Then there were the old-timers -- Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion from the United States, Petrenko, the 1992 Olympic champion from Ukraine, and Browning, the reigning world champ from Canada.

The good news for Boitano, 30, was that after six years on the professional tour, he came back to beat both his heralded rivals. The bad news was he fell on a combination jump and was eighth overall.

Petrenko, 24, spun out of his combination, too, and was ninth. And Browning, 27, botched two jumps, failed to receive a technical mark of 5.0 or better, and was 12th and in tears.

"That's the risk that you take," Boitano said. "It's a tough competition . . . You can't always be right on the money."

This was strange stuff. There were guys dressed as Technicolor cowboys, soldiers, Cossacks and peasants. There was even a )) skater from Estonia who forgot to screw in his skate blades.

But the weirdest moment of all came 52 seconds into the competition. With the crowd still filing into the Olympic Amphitheater, Boitano fell on a triple axel, failed to attempt the combination double toe loop and absorbed a mandatory .5 deduction from the nine judges.

"It's hard to explain," Boitano said. "It's like a dream . . . It's like you're not really there, like it's an out-of-body experience."

After leading the fight for a year to have the pros reinstated to Olympic competition, Boitano said when he went on the ice last night, "I just didn't think I was in the moment. It didn't have an Olympic atmosphere."

Petrenko was even worse, falling and fleeing the building.

And Browning, who crashed out of medal contention two years ago in Albertville, France, did it again.

"Here, I had it for a second," he said. "It was so easy to step in the topthree. The more I thought about it, I said, 'Oh, my God, it's Albertville all over again.' "

The kings are gone.

Now it's up to Urmanov, Stojko, Candeloro and Davis.

Urmanov, 20, wearing his frilly outfit from the Kirov ballet, was perfect on the ice, and beat Stojko on the judges' cards, 5-4.

But the Canadian named Elvis, dressed in a black leather and silver studded biker outfit, was clearly the crowd favorite.

Candeloro, 22, slipped into third, performing as a peasant to the score from "The Godfather."

And Davis, 22, was a Zorba the Greek raised in Montana. He two-footed his combination and missed the Lutz, but he gritted his way through the 2-minute, 30-second show.

"You know it's the Olympics," he said. "And you know it's tough out there."

Tomorrow night, it gets even tougher. Urmanov, Stojko and Candeloro each can win the gold by winning the free skate.

For Davis to win, he would have to place first while Urmanov was third or worse.

And what pathway could be constructed for another Boitano gold?

"He needs lots of people to beat lots of people," said his coach, Linda Leaver.

A finish order of Boitano, Petrenko, Browning, Stojko and Urmanov would give Boitano another gold.

And after last night, even that scenario doesn't sound so preposterous. It's not over," Boitano said. "I'll fight real hard to the end."

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