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Yamaguchi wins gold

Forget about the triple axels and quads. Elegance and artistry still count for plenty in figure skating, and they added up to an Olympic gold medal for Kristi Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi doesn't bother with those ultra-difficult maneuvers. She can do her share of jumps, and she completed nearly all of them Friday night, enough to win the free skate and the Olympic title _ the first for an American woman since 1976.

She also was helped by a meeting with that last American Olympic women's champion, Dorothy Hamill.

"We had a brief meeting. She wanted to wish me all the best," Yamaguchi said. "She reminded me how hard I worked for this."

Midori Ito of Japan moved up from fourth place to take the silver medal, and Nancy Kerrigan of the United States got the bronze. The other U.S. skater, Tonya Harding, was fourth.

"It feels wonderful," Kerrigan said. "The competitors here are all very talented, a tough group to compete against. I'm really excited."

All of the medal winners took spills during their routines, as did the fourth- and fifth-place finishers.

Yamaguchi, of Fremont, Calif., skated beautifully. Despite falling on a triple loop and cutting a triple salchow to a double, she clearly deserved the gold. Her footwork, spins, arm movements and presence were more artistic and expressive than anybody else.

"I still can't believe what's happening to me," Yamaguchi said. "After I fell on the loop, I decided to play it safe on the next jump and go for it in the end. I was just happy to go out there and do a good performance."

The U.S. champion said she was surprised: "I really didn't expect to be in this position. It's definitely been a little surprising to have everything happen so fast, win the worlds last year and this. Of course, I dreamed of it since I was a little girl and I first put on skates. That it is true is still sinking in."

Ito fell on a triple axel early in her program. She hit one later. But she also was hurt by doing only a double lutz-triple toe loop to open the free skate, worth two-thirds of the total score.

Needing to beat Yamaguchi by two places in the free skate, Ito didn't beat her at all. Ito got first-place marks from the Japanese and Czechoslovakian judges, but Yamaguchi got the rest, with eight 5.9s for artistry. Only the Japanese judge gave her a 5.8.

"It was not a physical problem at all," said Ito, who beat Yamaguchi in the Lalique Trophy at the Olympic Ice Hall last November. "I just lost the timing of the difficult triple jumps, the triple axel and (in the original program) the triple lutz."

Harding also fell on her triple axel, the fourth straight time she has failed to complete it. And France's Surya Bonaly, third after the original program, just missed a quadruple toe loop, then bombed to wind up sixth in the free skate and fifth overall.

"My coach and I had a little disagreement. He did not want me to try the quad," Bonaly said. "But I wanted to try it, absolutely, and I did."

Yamaguchi, 20, led off the final group. To Malaguena, Yamaguchi started well, easily hitting her triple lutz-triple toe combination. Her spins were precise and she moved gracefully to the music.

With Yamaguchi watching, Kerrigan came on the ice and missed several elements. She cut a triple toe loop-triple toe loop to a triple-single and also did a single lutz when she planned a triple. When Kerrigan fell on a triple toe loop, her gold chances were gone.

But the problems of Bonaly and Laetitia Hubert of France, plus Kerrigan's second place in the original program, were enough to ensure bronze.

Yamaguchi and Kerrigan, Olympic roommates, hugged and kissed on the victory stand.

"It helped rooming with Nancy," said Yamaguchi, whose career has soared since she dropped pairs in 1990 after two national titles with Rudi Galindo. "We are close friends, we were here for the same thing, we had the same goals. We helped each other out."

The biggest disappointment Friday night was Bonaly, the two-time European champion.

Bonaly, to rhythmic applause and foot-stomping from the flag-waving sellout crowd, began with the quadruple toe loop, a jump no woman has made in competition. She came very close, but made only 3{ revolutions before landing cleanly, just as she did at last year's world championships. The 18-year-old from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion then two-footed a triple lutz and fell on a triple flip. But she landed a triple loop and a triple toe-triple toe combination to finish her four-minute routine.

In all, Bonaly landed five triples, but her lack of footwork and weak spins hurt. She even got a 5.1 from the British judge and only the French judge (5.8) gave her a high mark for artistry.

The partisan crowd whistled and hooted at the marks. Bonaly complained that her mother was barred from standing in the coach's area just off the ice.

Harding performed better than at last month's nationals, where she slipped from defending champ to third place. Except for the triple axel, which only she and Ito have landed in competition, Harding was clean.