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Davis emerges from shadows to world stage LILLEHAMMER 94


HAMAR, Norway -- He stands fourth. Ahead of Brian Boitano. Ahead of Viktor Petrenko. Ahead of Kurt Browning.

Scott Davis cannot believe the position he is in.

There is a gold medal up for grabs tonight in the men's free-skating final at the Winter Olympics, and Davis has a chance to seize it, to arrive a few years early on his climb to skating greatness.

"I like this better than I thought," he said.

Davis, 22, the son of a football line coach from Great Falls, Mont., is shedding his image as the most underappreciated and most overlooked champion here.

The two-time American champion has arrived on the international stage.

"I think I can compete," he said.

But can he win?

"Who knows?" he said.

This is a final filled with intrigue, the old-timers knocking themselves out of contention in the technical program.

Temporarily, there is a new big four of skating: Alexei Urmanov of Russia, Elvis Stojko of Canada, Philippe Candeloro of France and Davis.

In many ways, though, Davis is the most intriguing performer here.

Underrate him at your peril. His legs are strong, and his nerves are steeled.

He is the best spinner of them all. He has a long program that he skates to "West Side Story" that he honed over two years.

"I'm not a Jet," he said. "And I'm not a Shark, either."

He's a skater, pure and simple, performing with no pressure or expectations.

"Technically and artistically, Scott is right in there with the rest of the world," said his coach, Kathy Casey. "And the judges have shown they they are restoring faith in this sport."

Davis used the frozen ponds of Montana as a playground, taking up skating as a 5-year-old. He advanced in the sport, joining forces with Casey, following her on a trek to a rink in Seattle and finally to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"It was tough on our family, tough on my mother to lose her child at 15," he said. "She let me go away to follow my dreams. She gave me my wings to fly."

And fly Davis did, once he accepted a fundamental fact of Olympic training: ballet classes.

At first, he resisted, and Casey nearly dumped him from the program.

"When that happened, I told him to pack his bags and go home," Casey said. "Ballet wasn't so bad after that."

He also had to grow accustomed to performing.

"Scott used to be ragged," Casey said. "He was a great spinner and jumper, but he wasn't much of a performer."

The problem wasn't style.

"It was nerves," Davis said. "I had to go to a sports psychologist to get over it. Now, I can create a character and not hide behind one."

He advanced steadily up the competitive ladder, finishing fourth at the 1992 U.S. Championships, and he was elevated to national champion the next year.

This year, he was almost overlooked in the buildup to the nationals. All the attention was focused on the Olympic comeback of Boitano.

But in Detroit, it was Davis who skated without flaw and who won.

"Having less pressure helped me do my job," he said. "There aren't a lot of people who have beaten Brian Boitano before. I didn't think I could do it. But I did."

Now he is in Norway, leapfrogging the greatest champions of a generation.

There were times in practice this week when he appeared nervous, almost overwhelmed.

But yesterday, he churned out one magnificent triple jump after another.

With Boitano in eighth, Davis is the only American with a realistic chance of earning a medal.

"He knows how to do his stuff," Boitano said. "He needs no advice from me."

What he needs to win the gold is this: to finish in first, at least two places ahead of Urmanov.

There's going to be a rumble come tonight's free-skating final.

Let the others bring out the soldier uniforms and the classical music.

Davis will simply try to recreate New York in Norway, bringing a little "West Side Story" to the frozen countryside.

"I had my doubts about winning at nationals," he said. "So now I'm open to anything."

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