Someone forgot to tell Tara Lipinski this was just the qualifying round. The 14-year-old U.S. champion showed no restraint Monday at the World Championships.
Lipinski nailed seven clean triples _ repeating jump for perfect jump her title-winning performances at the U.S. Nationals last month and at an international competition at Hamilton, Ontario.
Lipinski skated as if this were the championship itself. Either out of fear, or experience, all of her top competitors held something back.
World champion Michelle Kwan doubled out on two triples and cut another jump down to a single. Irina Slutskaya of Russia, the No.
3 skater in the world, nearly stopped jumping altogether in the second half of her program.
And China's Chen Lu, who lost a close decision to Kwan for the championship last year, held back nearly every jump in her first competition since the 1996 worlds. She fell on her first jump, a triple lutz, then singled on four others.
Lipinski and Kwan both led their groups, confirming the world championship will be a showdown between the two top American skaters _ Kwan's edge of maturity against Lipinski's uncontainable energy, with Nicole Bobek's comeback adding a possible element of surprise.
The 42 skaters were split into two groups with the top 15 in each advancing to the short program.
Lipinski's artistic marks were mostly 5.7 or 5.8, in line with her technical marks. Three judges scored her higher artistically than technically, and only the Czech judge withheld full approval, awarding a 5.4 artistic mark.
The 19-year-old Bobek, who finished second behind Lipinski in the second round, confessed that the rigors of jumping took their toll during the qualifying.
"I wasn't as artistic as I usually am," she said. "I was really concentrating on the jumps I have to not let that happen again. I really love the music and skating is not all about jumping."