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U.S. pairs taking shape

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LOS ANGELES ? Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman were virtual shoe-ins for the U.S. Olympic team in pairs skating. But until this week, the question of who would accompany them remained unanswered.

After a rough-and-tumble short program competition Wednesday night at the United States Figure Skating Championships, the team picture began to come into focus.

The U.S. qualified to send two teams to the Salt Lake City Games. Ina and Zimmerman had a lock on the first spot. But there were three other teams with a legitimate chance to claim their own ticket to Utah.

Stephanie Kalesavich and Aaron Parchem, an upstart team from Michigan, shot ahead of two more experienced teams to claim second going into Friday's free skate competition. Though they struggled on their side-by-side spins, their huge throw-triple-Salchow and side-by-side jumps put them firmly in the running for an Olympic team berth.

"It is a relatively new development for us, thinking about (making the Olympic team)," Parchem said. "But we just need to focus on skating two programs cleanly now."

Kalesavich and Parchem have been quickly moving up the ranks since they won the U.S. Junior Championships in 2000. They placed fourth at their first senior-level national competition last year and finished a respectable sixth at the Goodwill Games in August.

If momentum helped the team from Michigan, it hurt the third- and fourth-place teams.

Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, reining national silver medalists, had to pull out of the entire season after Dulebohn suffered a hip fracture. They were off the ice for four months. Nationals was their first competition back, and their performance reflected it. They landed their side-by-side triple toe loops and a throw-triple-Salchow but lacked unison on their spins. At the end of the program, Dulebohn tripped following their final death spiral.

"It has been a long, difficult season for Tiffany and myself," Dulebohn said. "But we are very pleased with how we're doing at this point."

Perhaps not as pleased are 1999 national champions Danielle Hartsell and Steve Hartsell, who placed fourth after Steve Hartsell doubled a planned side-by-side triple toe loop. Though the crowd booed the judges' low marks, Danielle Hartsell was characteristically upbeat about the team's chances.

"We've been in this position a million times," she said. "It's actually our favorite place to be ? always the chasers. We've been skating (the long program) really well. We've worked very hard on this program. If nothing else, we're going to go out with a bang."

ICE DANCE: In early competition Wednesday, three-time national champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev took the early lead in the ice dance competition with a decisive win in the compulsory dance.

Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, reigning national silver medalists, were in second place. However, they cannot represent the United States at the Olympics because Belbin is Canadian.

Beata Handra and Charles Sinek, who are eligible for the Olympics, are in third place going into Thursday's original dance competition.

E-mail: mtitze@desnews.com, jnii@desnews.com