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Notebook: Young skater mum about off-season work

Sunday, February 13, 2000

By Lori Shontz, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

CLEVELAND -- Headed into the ladies short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, much of the buzz centered on Naomi Nari Nam, who was a surprise runner-up at last year's nationals behind Michelle Kwan.

By Lori Shontz, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

After finishing second, Nam dropped from sight because at age 13, she was too young to go to worlds. The other 13-year-old in last year's competition, Sarah Hughes, qualified for worlds because she won a medal at the junior world championships, which is an age exemption.

But Nam was a busy girl. In addition to training harder -- she added a triple lutz, which she did not perform last year -- she signed an endorsement deal with a South Korean company and skated in a few shows.

After Nam, now 14, struggled in her short program Friday night -- she took a step in the middle of her triple-lutz, double-toe-loop combination, nearly hit the wall on her spiral sequence and doubled her triple flip -- she was asked whether her off-ice responsibilities had hampered her performance, especially considering her age.

Nam's coach, John Nicks, did not allow her to answer the question.

"If you want to excel and be at the top of your sport, you have to take the responsibilities that go with it," Nicks said. "Although Naomi is only 14, she is very strong physically and mentally."

When someone asked if Nam could answer the question, Nicks broke in again. "She always agrees with me," he said.

Nam giggled and nodded.

Special tribute

The tiny plastic pin, yellow and ribbon-shaped, isn't quite as flashy as most of the collectable figure skating pins that adorn the labels of figure skaters and their fans. But anybody who's anybody at Gund Arena this week is wearing one because the pin honors pairs skater Paul Binnebose, who was critically injured in a freak training accident five months ago.

Binnebose, 22, was lifting his partner, Laura Handy, when his back gave out. He fell and hit his head, fracturing his skull.

Binnebose was in a coma for 11 days, and until a few months ago, he couldn't sit up without help. But he has improved so much that he and Handy, who is also his girlfriend, were able to attend the competition. They were honored during the opening ceremonies, in which Binnebose received a standing ovation.

He has lost 20 pounds. He has some facial paralysis. He goes to physical and speech therapy twice a week, and he still has problems with dizziness and balance. Still, he and Handy -- who finished third at nationals in 1999 -- hope someday to return to the ice together.

Said Binnebose, "I think I'll have to be heavily medicated if I can't go back to skating."

What's the score?

Ever been frustrated because you didn't understand the judging or the scoring? Join the club. Even the skaters and coaches feel that way, too.

In the junior men's competition, Parker Pennington was in second place with one skater yet to perform -- Johnny Weir, the favorite. Weir skated poorly and fell to fifth place ... so Pennington was the winner, right?

Wrong. The victory went to Evan Lysaceck, who was third behind Pennington going into Weir's skate, because of a complicated scoring system.

In the system, which is no longer used internationally because it is so confusing, the judges score each skater and then their marks are compared against the other judges. Pennington placed first by five of the nine judges, but when the points were totaled, Lysaceck was the winner.

Much to his shock.

"It's weird," said Lysaceck, 14, from Downers Grove, Ill. "I was third overall, and then suddenly I moved to first. I'm kind of shocked. It will probably hit me in a couple of days."

Pennington, who landed the competition's only triple axel, was equally incredulous. As were his coaches, who knew that Pennington would have won under the current international system..

"I didn't really believe it," Glyn Watts, one of Pennington's coaches, told The Plain Dealer. "The results went on the screen and then they went off the screen. They flashed back up and I said, 'Wow, that's it.' "

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