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Urmanov jumps his way to figure-skating gold

There are athletes who fail to live up to their potential on the Olympic stage. There are others who find their finest form when it matters most. And so it was at the men’s figure skating in Lillehammer.

A huge amount of attention had been focused on a select few skaters – but the winner emerged from left field.

The qualification rules for the competition had changed for these Games, meaning the previous two champions – USA’s Brian Boitano and Ukraine’s Viktor Petrenko – were welcomed back into the competition. Along with the reigning champion Kurt Browning, from Canada, the trio were favourites to challenge for gold.

Yet each of them had a dismal time when they took to the ice for the first time in the technical programme, and finished the day sitting between eighth and 12th place.

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At the top was the Russian Aleksei Urmanov. His routine had impressed the judges more than the audience, but it was solid and free of mistakes. Could he cope with the pressure? While others had been to the top of the podium, Urmanov had never won a major international competition and now had to produce a free programme that could beat the best. Canada’s Elvis Stojko was only just behind with France’s Philippe Candeloro in third, and each had the ability to snatch victory.

Candeloro landed seven triple jumps, delighting judges and spectators, but fell on the eighth, moments before the end of his routine. Without that slip, he might have won gold – instead, his routine earned him a bronze.

Stojko then produced another eye-catching display. Urmanov, by contrast, landed all eight of his triples, produced a more familiar routine, and was rewarded with victory. It was his first major win, and it was to prove the only such victory of his career. What a time to do it.

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