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Qualifying rounds cut short program field to 30

MOSCOW -- Michelle Kwan will have some high-profile company
in Wednesday's qualifying at the World Figure Skating
Championships, including last year's winner and a former world
champion.

In the draw for the afternoon group, five-time world champion
Kwan skates fourth, 2002 winner Irina Slutskaya of Russia is sixth
and defending champion Shizuka Arakawa of Japan is eighth.

"The group is going to be hard," Kwan said, "but now with the
new system, it is better for us."

The International Skating Union's new scoring system is making
its worlds debut and already has run into problems. Chinese skater
Li Chengjiang and American champion Johnny Weir switched places
after Li was found to have been erroneously credited with no points
for his final spin. An ISU statement blamed the problem to "human
error."

The system, which gives individual marks to each element of a
program rather than an overall technical rating, has been used at
Grand Prix events the past two seasons. Kwan has stayed off that
circuit but she's been studying the system.

"I have been analyzing quite a bit the last few months, looking
at past GP finals," Kwan said. "I feel pretty confident. It will
definitely be interesting."

Her practices to the "Bolero" routine, choreographed by
Christopher Dean, have been impressive. She was even trying
triple-triples, something she has not done in competition since the
qualifying round at the 2002 worlds.

She also has been showing more intricate spins and footwork than
in previous worlds.

Slutskaya beat Kwan at the 2002 worlds. But in the 2003-04
season she had an inflammation of the heart lining and finished
ninth at the last worlds in Germany. This year, however, she's
unbeaten in six major competitions, including a victory over Kwan
in an invitational.

Slutskaya has beaten Kwan nine times since 2000, although Kwan
usually prevails in world championships.

Kwan, however, didn't win in Germany, either. That title went to
Arakawa. She did a triple-triple-double and triple-triple in
Dortmund, which counts heavily in the new system.

This season she has been having problems with new boots.

"I am trying not to think about it," Arakawa said, adding that
there's good side to the problem. "One aspect of struggling with
the boots is that I don't have time to feel the pressure of
defending the title. I just want to get on the ice and show what I
can do."

The qualifying rounds cut the field for the short program to 30,
and 25 percent of the qualifying round score is added to the total
of the free and short programs for the final score.

In the morning group, former European champion Julia Sebestyen
of Hungary drew the unfortunate first position. Sasha Cohen of the
United States, last year's world silver medalist, drew fifth and
Miki Ando of Japan, the only woman to complete a quadruple jump in
competition, will start 15th.

"For the qualifications, I will have to see in the morning how
I feel," Ando said. "For the free I want to try the quad."

Ando was fourth in the world championships last year.