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Russians have lost their edge

Former skating power takes hard fall on ice

That wheezing sound you heard out of Tokyo last week was the last gasp of Russia's figure skating dynasty. After winning three of the four gold medals at last year's Olympics, the Motherland had its worst showing at the World Championships since it first began competing seriously 45 years ago.

Not only did the Russians win no medals, their top man was 19th, top woman 13th, top pair ninth, and top dancers fifth. The pipeline, primed for years with Soviet-system cash and coaching, has all but run dry.

Not that the Americans, who had their poorest outing since 1994, fared much better. Their only medal came from dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who won bronze by less than a quarter of a point. Every other US performer, from defending women's champion Kimmie Meissner (fourth) to two-time medalist Evan Lysacek (fifth) to the pair of Rena Inoue and John Baldwin (eighth) finished lower than last year in Calgary. It wasn't just the jet lag; it was the inability to land the more demanding jumps and throws under pressure.

Meanwhile, it was a huge event for the Asians, who swept the women's podium for the first time behind Japan's Miki Ando and Mao Asada and South Korean sensation Kim Yu Na , went 1-2 in pairs with the Chinese, and took the men's silver with Japan's Daisuke Takahashi.

The sport finally has gone truly global. Four different countries won gold -- France (Brian Joubert ) claimed the men's title for the first time in 42 years -- and nine earned medals. It was a far cry from 1999, when Russia and the US grabbed 8 of the 12 medals.

Will the show go on?
As long as US Figure Skating can come up with a host broadcaster, the 2009 World Championships will stay in Los Angeles. If not, they could be moved, possibly to Helsinki or Budapest. It's happened before; the 2000 event was switched from Brisbane to Nice when the Australians couldn't provide the required global TV feed . . . Olympic champions Shizuka Arakawa and Evgeni Plushenko will be the headliners when the annual "Champions on Ice" tour comes to the TD Banknorth Garden April 22. The lineup also includes former world champions Meissner, Irina Slutskaya, and Viktor Petrenko plus Olympic medalists Sasha Cohen and Belbin-Agosto and new US champion Lysacek. Tickets are available at the box office, at Ticketmaster outlets and website, and by phone charge at 617-931-2000. Cohen and Wakefield's Stephen Carriere , the new world junior champion, also will be featured at the Ice Chips show at Harvard's Bright Center Saturday and Sunday. Call the Skating Club of Boston at 617-782-5900, ext. 15, for information.

Queens of the mountain
Terrific Alpine season for the Austrian women, who not only finished 1-2 in the World Cup overall standings with Nicole Hosp and Marlies Schild but also won all four discipline titles, with Renate Goetschl taking downhill and Super G, Schild the slalom, and Hosp the giant slalom. Julia Mancuso had a memorable campaign; her third-place overall finish was the best by a US woman since Tamara McKinney was third in 1984. "I have plenty of years ahead of me," said the 23-year-old Mancuso, who was eighth last season. "Entering the season, I wasn't even thinking about the top three overall." The men's chase came down to seven-hundredths of a second in the season's final race, when Norway's Axel Lund Svindal finished 15th in the slalom to edge Austria's Benjamin Raich by 13 points. Bode Miller, who ended up fourth, won the Super G title . . . Encouraging season by the US Nordic types, who gradually are catching up to their European rivals. Bill Demong of Vermontville, N.Y., won silver at the World Championships plus a Cup race, and finished 11th in the final Nordic combined standings (Finland's Hannu Manninen won his fourth straight crown). Andy Newell of Shaftsbury, Vt., placed sixth on the cross-country sprint list, with Kikkan Randall of Anchorage 12th on the women's side . . . The Germans hit the biathlon double, with Michael Greis claiming their first men's World Cup title since 1999 and Andrea Henkel taking the women's despite a disastrous shooting session in the final event. It was the farewell tour for French legend Raphael Poiree and Germany's Ricco Gross, who retired after 16 years and 27 global medals. It was also a breakout year for Tim Burke, whose 25th place in the overall standings was the best ever by an American.

The golden curls
The Canadian women rocked the field at the World Curling Championships in Japan, winning their first title in three years over Denmark. The US, skipped by Debbie McCormick , ended up fourth after winning silver last year. The Swedes, the defending Olympic and global champions, didn't even make the playoff round . . . After being fired by The Donald ("How do I fire an Olympian?") on Sunday's episode of "The Apprentice: Los Angeles," Angela Ruggiero's next job is to help her US women's hockey teammates retain their title at next week's World Championships in Manitoba. The Americans will meet China and Kazakhstan in the prelims . . . Michael Phelps's bid for eight gold medals (he won six in Athens) is on track at the World Championships in Melbourne. After swimming leadoff on the victorious US 4x100 freestyle relay Sunday, he'll take on Dutch rival Pieter van den Hoogenband in today's 200 free . . . Open water swimming, which will be part of next year's Olympics for the first time, comes with all the hazards of open water. Virtually all of the women in the 10-kilometer race off Melbourne's St. Kilda Beach emerged covered with welts from jellyfish stings. "At least there weren't any sharks," said Britain's Cassandra Patten. It wasn't just the jellyfish who were nasty; the competitors were knocking elbows among themselves. "Everyone was just beating each other up," said Germany's Angela Maurer. The Americans benefited from brutal weather (wind gusts of 45 m.p.h., driving rain, 5-foot waves), which interrupted the women's 25-kilometer race for a day. Kalyn Keller , who was fifth when the competition was stopped, ended up with the silver medal.

In terrific form
The Chinese just missed running the table at the world diving meet, winning nine of the 10 events (the Russians took men's platform) and 14 medals in all. The only medal for the Americans, a bronze in synchronized platform from David Boudia and Thomas Finchum , came in the final event . . . One medal -- a team bronze -- for the Yanks at the World Synchronized Swimming Championships. The Russians dominated as expected, winning the team and duet events and taking silver in the solo . . . The US men's basketball team drew Brazil, Canada, Venezuela, and the US Virgin Islands for this summer's Olympic qualifier in Las Vegas. If the Americans, who are 26-0 in previous regional tournaments, finish in the top two, they'll get a ticket to Beijing. If not, they'll have to play in a last-chance qualifier a year from July. The women are grouped with Cuba, Canada, and Jamaica for their qualifier in Chile, where only the winner claims a spot . . . Next up for the US women's soccer team after its fifth Algarve Cup title is a friendly with Mexico at Gillette Stadium April 14 as the lead-in to the Revolution's home opener against Toronto FC. It'll be the first stop on a domestic tour that includes tuneups against Canada, China, Brazil, and four other rivals before the World Cup in China in September . . . Defending pursuit champion Sarah Hammer is the top hope for the compact (six members) US cycling team for this week's world track championships in Mallorca. Hammer, who last year was the first American gold medalist in a decade, also will compete in the points race . . . The US qualified a full 11-man boxing team for this summer's Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Earning the welterweight spot was Providence's Demetrius Andrade . . . Out of track and field for good is Remi Korchemny , who coached banned dopers Kelli White and Chryste Gaines and pleaded guilty in the BALCO case. Korchemny recently dropped his challenge to the US Anti-Doping charges against him and agreed to a lifetime domestic and international ban.

John Powers can be reached at