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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Skaters to watch

The Spokesman-Review

At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships:

Women

Michelle Kwan

The gold standard of skating is chasing history — again. The eight-time U.S. champion needs one more title to tie Maribel Vinson Owen for most in American skating history. Already owns the mark for longest winning streak in U.S. women’s history, seven straight. … Free skate to “Bolero” was choreographed by none other than Christopher Dean. … Near-recluse again this fall, skating in two invitationals but skipping Grand Prix series. Limited schedule hasn’t hurt in the past, but she would go to the world championships without skating under the new points-based judging system. … Still on top after more than a decade with unmatched artistry and grace, but the competition is getting tougher. After dazzling at 2004 U.S. championships, finished third at worlds, her lowest placement since 1995.

Sasha Cohen

Another trying year for skating’s most enigmatic woman. Missed the Grand Prix series because of a lingering back injury, and was third at both invitationals she did. Left East Coast last month and returned to California, where she’s reunited with former coach John Nicks. But the two had less than three weeks to work together before nationals — hardly ideal preparation for the year’s biggest competition. … One of the most talented skaters around, combining equal parts athleticism, artistry and beauty, but falls short when it matters most. Won silver at last year’s worlds, but still looking for first major title at Olympics, worlds or nationals. … Medaled in every event she entered last season, winning five golds, three silvers and a bronze. … Free skate to “Pas de Deux” from “The Nutcracker” should be another wonderful showcase for her artistry.

Jennifer Kirk

Still looking to build on last year’s breakout season. Finished eighth in her first invitational, withdrew from Grand Prix event because of injury and finished 10th at Cup of Russia. Rebounded with fourth-place finish at second invitational. … Switched coaches last summer, now training with Frank Carroll. … Won her first medal at nationals last year, a bronze. … Former ballerina — she danced in the Boston Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” four times — projects delicate beauty on the ice. But don’t let the gentle exterior fool you, she can jump with the best of them.

Kimmie Meissner

First senior nationals makes her a bit of a dark horse, but don’t count her out. Won the U.S. junior title last season with a program that included two triple lutzes — one in combination with a triple toe loop — and had all the other triples. Won the novice crown in 2003. … Second at junior world championships last spring, and finished third at this year’s junior Grand Prix final. … Finished fifth at International Skating Classic, her first competition with the big girls.

Men

Johnny Weir

Hasn’t slowed down since surprise victory at nationals last year. Won two Grand Prix events, beating former U.S. champions Tim Goebel and Michael Weiss at NHK and topping world silver medalist Brian Joubert at Trophee Eric Bompard. Second to world champ Evgeni Plushenko at Cup of Russia. … Qualified for Grand Prix final, but withdrew with sprained foot. … After years of inconsistency, former world junior champ finally coming into own. Still working to perfect quadruple jump, but the endearingly quirky Weir rivals Plushenko for artistry and quality of skating.

Tim Goebel

Another chaotic year for the Olympic bronze medalist. Got his boot troubles figured out and started strongly with a win at the International Skating Classic and a second at NHK Trophy. Then decided in November to switch coaches, moving cross-country to train with Audrey Weisiger in Virginia. Muscle spasm in side of his back forced him to withdraw at Trophee Eric Bompard and kept him out of second invitational. … Hasn’t had full season since 2002 because of various injuries.

Michael Weiss

Three-time U.S. champion has become the Energizer Bunny of skating, showing no signs of quitting. … Won bronze medal at Skate America and was fourth at NHK Trophy. … Quad and triple axel must be more consistent to score big in new international judging system. … Has always delighted in bringing edgier side to genteel sport, and does it again with free skate to medley of Led Zeppelin and Metallica.

Evan Lysacek

Made the jump to senior Grand Prix circuit this year, finishing fifth at Skate America and Cup of Russia. Second at Marshalls World Cup of Skating invitational, topping world champion silver medalist Brian Joubert. … Won his third silver medal at junior world championships last spring. … Has steadily climbed at nationals, going from 12th to seventh to fifth last year. Will spot on podium be next?

Pairs

Rena Inoue and John Baldwin Jr.

Defending champions hoping to improve on last year’s train wreck. Made three major errors in free skate and were sure they’d cost themselves spot on world team. Were stunned to find they’d won title. … Making steady progress in fifth season together, but still have long way to go to catch Chinese and Russians. … Won first Grand Prix medal with a bronze at Skate America.

Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn

Olympians trying to regain form that won them U.S. title in 2003. … Fifth at Cup of China and seventh at Cup of Russia. … Finished disappointing third at 2004 nationals, keeping them home from worlds for first time since 1999.

Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash

Surprise silver medalists at last year’s nationals. … Finished 13th at worlds, moving up three spots from previous year. … Sixth at Skate America, fifth at Trophee Eric Bompard.

Dance

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto

Defending champions have made astonishing climb in world rankings and now have little competition in the United States. … Won Skate America and Cup of China, and finished second at Grand Prix final to world champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov of Russia. Could this be season they end 20-year U.S. medal drought at worlds?

Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov

Won silver medal last season after finishing third previous two years. … Finished a respectable 12th in first appearance at world championships. … Making progress on international scene, finishing fourth at both Grand Prix events.

Morgan Matthews and Maxim Zavozin

Two-time U.S. junior champs making the jump to senior ranks this year and could push Gregory-Petukhov. … Come to nationals on a roll after winning junior Grand Prix Final. Also won their two Grand Prix events.

–Associated Press

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