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LIPINSKI STANDS UP TO PRESSURE

Tara Lipinski, figure skating's youngest world champion, has shed both the little girl image and a bad habit.

The result: A victory Saturday at the Champions Series Final, the kind of result the 15-year-old Lipinski would like to repeat in two months at the Winter Olympics.

Skating last, Lipinski followed flawless and elegant long programs by Russian Maria Butruskaya and Germany's Tanja Szewczenko. Butruskaya hit six clean triples. Szewczenko seven, a first for the German champion.

The pressure was on.

Like Szewczenko, Lipinski hit seven triples, but four were in difficult combinations, including her unique triple loop-triple loop.

When the marks went up, Lipinski got a majority of 5.9s for both technical performance and artistic expression.

"I was so happy," Lipinski said. "It feels really good that I won."

Since winning the 1997 world championship at age 14, Lipinski has been working on improving her skating image, concentrating on choreography that emphasizes her graceful spins and spirals, as well as her jumping. But she was bothered by an unexpected problem: low technical scores that judges explained were due to her tendency to switch edges on the lutz.

Lipinski's coach, Richard Callaghan, said he sees the difference in her lutz -- and that the judges must, too. The marks show "respect for her ability, and her age," Callaghan said.

Szewczenko, making a comeback after an 18-month because of a viral illness, doubled over with joy at the end of her program.

"It's the first time ever I hit seven triples," Szewczenko said. She finished second, ahead of Butruskaya.

In the men's competition, world champion Elvis Stojko of Canada fell on his quad, and was beaten by unflappable Ilia Kulik of Russia. After landing with both hands to the ice on his quad toe attempt, Kulik hit eight clean triples and earned five 5.9s for presentation.

Kulik hadn't won a major international competition since the European title in 1995 and said it was a matter of maturing.

"I'm gaining more confidence in my free program. As you saw last season, it was always a big struggle for me," Kulik, 20, said. Little things don't rattle me like they used to."

Coming back from a dislocated shoulder that contributed to a fourth-place finish at the Champions Series competition at Paris last month, American Todd Eldredge's only error was a double loop right in front of the judges. He came back with a triple axel and then a double, hitting seven triples overall. He finished third.

"It's the best I've skated so far this year," Eldredge said. "It's good to be healthy and not dealing with injuries anymore."

None of the men jumped higher than Russian Alexei Yagudin, who hit a quad toe and eight more triples. Last going into the long program after a disastrous short program, he finished fourth.

Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the pairs title, beating world champions Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer. Steuer's bruised right arm obviously gave him trouble throughout the program.

Woetzel landed unsteadily on their twisting throw, the move that tests her partner's injury most, and none of the tosses was quite as far, or the lifts quite as long. Russia's Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev finished third.

Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov received four perfect 6.0s for their free dance, a slow-building program set to a requiem, to win the ice dance competition.