Nam, Leftheris pleasantly surprised with third

Associated Press
Published January 12, 2006

ST. LOUIS - Naomi Nari Nam might make it to the Olympics after all. As a pairs skater.

The 1999 women's silver medalist returned to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships for the first time in six years Wednesday, this time in pairs. But she quickly made herself at home, finishing third in the short program with Themistocles Leftheris.

Pretty good for someone who's only been skating pairs since June.

"We worked really hard in the nine months we had, and it definitely showed tonight. We pulled it together," Nam said. "It was familiar (on the ice), but I also had this strapping young gentleman to worry about."

Another effort like this in Friday's free skate, and Nam could do her worrying at the Turin Olympics. The United States can send two pair teams. Defending national champs Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash have a solid lead with 60.65 points, but Nam and Leftheris are less than a point behind Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem.

Hinzmann and Parchem finished with 57.41 points, while Nam and Leftheris scored 56.63.

Former national champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin had a dismal outing, with him botching their side-by-side triple toe loop jumps and her falling on a throw triple loop to drop to fourth.

"We've not spoken of their potential or their placement at all," said Peter Oppegard, Nam and Leftheris' coach and the 1988 bronze pairs medalist with partner Jill Watson. "I've tried to shield them from that."

Back before Sarah Hughes or Sasha Cohen, Nam was supposed to be the one to give Michelle Kwan a run for her medals. At 11, she won the novice title in 1997, an adorable child who could spin better than most people twice her age.

Two years later she finished second to Kwan.

But her body had different ideas. She missed the 2001 nationals with what she thought was a stress fracture in her hip. As it turned out, she'd popped the hip out of its socket and had torn cartilage that required surgery.

"I thought I need something new, I need something to get the fire in me, so why not try pairs?" she said.

Because the couple has been together such a short time, they came to nationals hoping only to draw the judges' attention for the next Olympic cycle.

"We just kind of want to come out here and show we are a pairs team that could be future Olympians," she said. "Look for us in the future, because we'll be back."