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Kwan stumbles, is 3rd heading into free skate

Michelle Kwan has been there before.

She created a big obstacle for herself Friday when she stumbled out of a combination jump in the short program and was fortunate to stay as high as third place.

She trailed Russian rival Irina Slutskaya and even Japanese favorite Fumie Sugari entering today's free skate, which concludes the World Figure Skating Championships. Yoshie Onda of Japan was fourth, with Sasha Cohen of the United States fifth.

For Kwan to win her third consecutive world championship and fifth overall, she needs to win the free skating and have someone else beat Slutskaya, as well.

A jump from third is not out of the question, though. At the Olympics, Sarah Hughes leaped from fourth to upset Slutskaya and Kwan to take the gold medal.

Hughes, however, is not in Nagano and Slutskaya looks confident to continue her winning streak against Kwan and finally gain a world title. Slutskaya has beaten Kwan all four times they met this season and seven of the past nine times.

Yet in 2000, Kwan rose from third to win the world title.

"I have been in this situation before. You just have to skate, do your best and concentrate on your performance," she said.

A momentary loss of concentration hurt Kwan.

"I didn't feel really good out there," Kwan said. "Heading into the triple lutz, the combination, I felt a little too fast and I think I leaned back a little bit."

Kwan stumbled out of her triple lutz in the first part of a combination jump. For that, she received technical marks between 5.2 and 5.4, very low for the four-time world champion.

Slutskaya was flawless, earning two perfect 6.0s for presentation to a Schubert melody. With a high triple lutz entering her combination, she also was the best of the afternoon for required elements, with all 5.8s or 5.9s.

"It's the first time I received 6.0 in the short program at the worlds," she said. "I worked hard on my artistic marks and I'm very happy the judges see that, too."

Cohen had an opportunity to do better until she stumbled on her final jump, a double axel.

"I really don't know what happened," Cohen said. "I was disappointed, because I have been skating better programs."

The other American, Jennifer Kirk, Hughes' substitute at this event, was 15th. Bothered by a hip injury, she fell twice.

"My left hip hurt after the warmup," Kirk said. "I had a hip problem before, but it was on the other side. This problem started this weekend, but it really started hitting me after the warmup. Hopefully, I can put this performance behind me."

She scored from just 3.6 to 4.3 for the required elements, but up to 5.2 for presentation.

Russia's Maria Butyrskaya, who beat Slutskaya at this year's European Championships, withdrew Friday before the short program, citing "physical and emotional fatigue."

In the evening, Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh, with a tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, captured the ice dance title. It was the first world title for the Russians, who were fourth in the world in 2000. They were the silver medalists at the Olympics a month ago.

Second were Canadians Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. Skating to a medley of Michael Jackson songs, they moved up from fourth a year ago.

Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski won the first medal for Israel at the World Championships with a bronze.

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