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Surprising Twist

Unheralded Scott Davis upstaged everyone—including the women—at the nationals

What next? Whatwould possibly happen next to Scott Davis at the U.S. Figure SkatingChampionships in Phoenix? He had already endured the worst possible draw inlast Friday's short technical program—going first out of 19 skaters—a draw solousy that his first thought, a tad over-dramatic, was, My life is over. Hesurvived and skated flawlessly.

Then his pantswere stolen, lifted right out of his bag in the skaters' dressing room atAmerica West Arena. So when Davis, a shy Montana native, was asked if he hadseen the performance of Mark Mitchell, the only man ahead of him after theshort program, he blushed and admitted that he hadn't. "I was sittingaround in my underwear, wondering where my pants were," said Davis. Henever did find the darn things. He finally made it back to the hotel, afteranother skater lent him a pair of trousers.

So what couldhappen next? Would Davis's skating outfit simply come apart, as poor TonyaHarding Gillooly's did during the women's technical program on Friday evening?(She was granted a re-skate.) Would he sprawl and splay and bounce repetitivelyoff his bottom, as the women would in unprecedented numbers during theSaturday-night massacre that was passed off to ABC-TV viewers as a free-skatingprogram? Almost any scenario would, in Davis's mind, have been more likely thanwhat came to pass last Saturday.

Davis, who hadassumed he would be skiing in March instead of competing at the worldchampionships in Prague (the top two men would qualify for the worlds), had hisvacation plans torpedoed when he won his first senior national championship,thanks to a dynamic free-skating performance that brought 7,803 people out oftheir seats even before he had completed his final spin. His first thought,which was not overly dramatic, was, My life is just beginning.

The title movedthe 21-year-old Davis closer to fulfilling his dream of skating in theOlympics, a dream he had nurtured since he was nine and had his picture takenwith 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton. After winding up eighth at thenationals in 1991 and fourth in '92, Davis hoped to finish third in Phoenix,behind Mitchell and two-time U.S. champion Todd Eldredge. But when Eldredgeperformed a long program that his coach, Richard Callaghan, accurately termed"totally lifeless," Davis came to the fore. Skating to music from WestSide Story, Davis landed seven perfect triples, including a triple Lutz, tripletoe combination that so excited his mother, Wallie Jean, that she broke hercamera when she bounded out of her seat.

Mitchell, who wasthird at the nationals last year, was the last man to skate on Saturday. When,in the opening seconds of his program, he fell while attempting a triple Axel,it became apparent that Davis would prevail and that Mitchell would have tosettle for second.

Before Davis'sperformance, the men's competition looked as if it would be overshadowed by thepresence in the stands of 1988 Olympic gold medalist and four-time nationalchamp Brian Boitano, who is "95 percent sure" that he will seekreinstatement as an amateur in time to try to qualify for the 1994 Olympics inLillehammer. Under new rules, professional skaters who wish to compete in theOlympics must seek reinstatement with their own country's governing body beforeapplying to the International Skating Union to be reinstated as amateurs. Whichmeans Lillehammer could have several intriguing battles among former Olympicchampions. The 1992 men's gold medalist, Viktor Petrenko, a Ukrainian, has alsoexpressed interest in being reinstated. So has Katarina Witt, the 1984 and '88women's Olympic champion. Kristi Yamaguchi, the '92 women's gold medalist, isreported to be weighing her options. This should be great for the sport,right?

It has certainlybeen great for the groaners. "I can't understand why it's so difficult forthese kids to have the guts to get on with the rest of their lives," saidRonna Gladstone, Mitchell's coach, when asked about Boitano's potentialreinstatement.

"I didn'tthink it was fair when the professional tennis players came into the Olympicsin '88, when the pro basketball players came in in '92, and that's the way Ifeel about the skaters," Mitchell kept saying last week. "They've hadtheir turn, and I think it's time for them to move on."

I see. Now we'retaking turns to compete in the Olympics. Pardon me, Brian, but I'm next inline. Nothing like rising to a challenge.

Mitchell wasn'tthe only one knocking the return of the professionals. Many American icedancers and their coaches were miffed that the top two couples in Phoenixincluded three reinstated pros, one a legal alien. Gorsha Sur, who won thedance competition with Renee Roca, defected from Russia in 1990 and doesn'teven have a U.S. green card yet.

Roca and Sur arean appealing couple on ice, stylish and sensual. After Sur defected, a mutualfriend put him in touch with Roca, who had won the 1986 U.S. dance title withDonald Adair. Sur remembered Roca well; she had snubbed him when he flirtedwith her on an elevator during a 1989 competition in Indianapolis. For herpart, Roca. who's 5'4", remembered the 5'9" Sur as being too short.Still, she agreed to a trial, and the two have been together for almost threeyears, including two years in professional shows.

In Phoenix thejudges clearly preferred Roca and Sur's classical European look to the moreAmerican style of former pro Susan Wynne and her new partner, Russ Witherby,who placed second. Roca and Sur won all three segments of the competition,after which Sur declared himself "on the ninth cloud." Now Sur mustwait a few weeks to see if he will receive the ISU's blessing to represent theU.S. at the world championships, at which he and Roca could become the firstU.S. dance medalists since 1985.

The highlight ofany U.S. nationals is usually the women's competition, but this year, insteadof skating in Phoenix, the women should have skated in Tortilla Flats. How flatwas the competition? On Saturday night, '92 Olympic bronze medalist NancyKerrigan landed only three of the six triple jumps she had planned for herfree-skate program, pancaked on a triple Lutz—and still won her first nationaltitle. Harding Gillooly, who has landed just one triple Axel in competition inthe last two years, landed only two clean triples out of the six scheduled,fell once and tumbled into fourth place overall, right off the world team (forwhich three women qualified). Lisa Ervin, who finished second, and ToniaKwiatkowski, who was third, were the wobbly beneficiaries of Harding Gillooly'smisfortune.

But the realwinner may have been Witt, whose prospective return to the Olympics had beenderided by Kerrigan, among others. Witt, never a great jumper, has no tripleLutz and no triple Axel. She does, however, stay on her feet, and she does sowith style, something we saw little of among the American women last Saturdaynight. As one retired skater said afterward, "This is going to make a lotof women besides Witt come back next year. You watch." We would ratherwatch Davis, thanks just the same.





Kerrigan (top) tumbled like Harding Gillooly (left) and Nicole Bobek, but she remained upright long enough to win the gold medal.