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Wylie in position for medal _ any medal

Flash to a corridor in the bowels of the Orlando Arena, five weeks ago.

Paul Wylie looks defeated. He is fourth after the short or original program at the U.S. nationals, which are also the Olympic trials, and he looks beat. He has just missed his critical combination jump.

"This is my last shot," he said.

Flash to tonight. This is his best shot. His Olympic short program Thursday was flawless. With the death of compulsory figures, Wylie alone has set himself up to be the third U.S. male to win a figure skating gold medal in the last three Olympics.

"The short program is like the downhill now," he said. "They go down a hill and hang on for dear life. That's what the short is. The long is a chance to express myself. There's more room to move."

Mistakes matter less, particularly in a dazzling program like Wylie's if he is on. He'll skate to music by Saint-Saens. His second jump will be the triple axel and his next jump will be a triple-lutz, double-toe combination. He'll also throw a triple axel-double toe combination late in the program. He'll be picturesque in his spins.

Watch his landings, so light, so soft. Enjoy his foot work and spins. They are pretty.

Then wonder if he'll stand. For if he does, Wylie could win the gold medal in a stunner, with his U.S. teammates Christopher Bowman and Todd Eldredge too far back in the pack to matter.

Viktor Petrenko of the Unified Team, first after the short program, is known to tire in the long program. Defending world champion Kurt Browning, a go-for-broke cowboy in fourth place, is said to be planning a quadruple toe loop to wow the judges and win the long program.

Czechoslovakia's Petr Barna, who can't deliver the triple axel, can land a quad and try to do it with artistry. But look for him, currently second, to drop in the standings.

Which brings us to Wylie. He lucked out in the draw for tonight's freeskate. In the final group of six skaters, he goes fourth, right after Browning and Petrenko. After Wylie are only Barna and sixth-place Elvis Stojko, of Canada.

The judges won't be able to decide on the winner until Wylie skates. It's all up to him.

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