Copyright 1998 Plain Dealer Publishing Co. The Plain Dealer View Related Topics October 31, 1998 Saturday, FINAL / ALL SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. 1D LENGTH: 543 words HEADLINE: LOOKING A LITTLE RUSTY; WOMEN STRUGGLE AT SKATE AMERICA BYLINE: By AMY ROSEWATER; PLAIN DEALER REPORTER DATELINE: DETROIT BODY: The women competing last night in Skate America should have no complaints about Michelle Kwan not skating here. If the two-time world champion had been permitted by the International Skating Union to perform in the short program last night in Joe Louis Arena, she probably would have shown how much further the women need to go this season. Kwan was not allowed to skate here because she did not want to skate in any Grand Prix event other than Skate America. None of the 10 women in the field skated a clean program, and the leader entering tonight's free skate, Maria Butyrskaya, fell on a triple lutz. Angela Nikodinov, who trains in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., is second and Russia's Elena Sokolova is third. Nicole Bobek, who is skating in her first major competition since her debacle in the Nagano Olympics, is fourth. "I'm surprised at that," said Richard Callaghan, who coached Bobek and worked with a couple of the other competitors this summer. "From watching the skating, it looks almost like this is a week before everyone wants to do it." To be fair, Skate America is the first of six events in the ISU's Grand Prix series, and the skaters do have almost an entire season to touch up their programs and perfect their jumps. This is skating's spring training. The national and world championships are months away. Butyrskaya said she did not select the music for her short program until three weeks ago after she struggled to make another program work. Still, it was not an impressive showing for a field that features some of the top skaters in the world. Butyrskaya is the world bronze medalist, and Poland's Anna Rechnio, who was fifth at the world championships, is sixth after the short program. The door was open for Nikodinov to win the short program. She was the next-to-last skater to perform her routine, and only Sokolova had landed a clean combination. Nikodinov landed a triple lutz-double toe but trimmed a planned triple flip to a double. "I think everyone here understands that without Michelle here, there is pressure to stand up and walk through an open door," said Peter Oppegard, a former pairs skater who coaches Nikodinov. "I think we're looking for the next skater. The longer we go the more we'll find out who wants that." Bobek has been training primarily in Detroit with Callaghan, who coached her to a national title and a world bronze medal in 1995. The Chicago native fell on a triple flip but got up and performed a double toe. "It was a really bad fall," said Bobek. "I was kind of shocked. Afterwards, I asked Richard what was wrong. When I fell, it took me so long to get up. The only thing I could think about was to the double toe. When I did the spin after that, I said, 'OK, I made a mistake. I can't make another one.' Bobek recovered from the fall to land a triple toe and a double axel. "Believe me," said Bobek, "if [that fall] was practice, I would've stayed there." In the ice-dancing competition, French Olympic bronze medalists Marina Anissina and Gwedal Peizerat won the original dance and lad entering today's free skate. Americans Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev are sixth, and Eve Chalom and Mathew Gates are seventh. The free skate is worth 50 percent of the total score.