PHILADELPHIA -- The new-found power of U.S. pairs skating just might lead to something special at the Olympics.
Defending champions Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen and three-time former winners Jenni Meno and Todd Sand all skated superbly Wednesday night in the short program in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Ina and Dungjen, on the strength of a magnificently intricate lift, finished first with six of the nine judges. Meno and Sand got the other three top places to wind up second heading into Friday night's free skate, worth two-thirds of the total score.
"This is very good for the U.S. heading to the Olympics," Dungjen said. "We've never had two pairs in the top five before and the rest of the world is looking at the U.S. pairs as threats.
"We pushed them to get better and Jenni and Todd definitely pushed us to get better."
Ina and Dungjen chased Meno and Sand for three years, finishing second in the nationals in 1994, '95 and '96. Last year came the breakthrough, which only made both couples work even harder.
"It's a good rivalry," said Ina, who was born in Tokyo and doesn't try to suppress her excitement about a potential trip to the Olympics in Nagano, Japan next month. "We're not enemies at all."
"We knew Jenni and Todd skated clean and we're happy for them," added Dungjen. "I said to Kyoko, `Let's go out and do it' and we did."