There's strong anticipation as Bountiful's Holly Cook begins defense of her national medal status tonight at 6 MST in the Target Center when she skates the original program at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Coach Kris Sherard reports that Cook, who had feared her shortened training time might hurt her, has looked fine in practices in Minneapolis. "She looks the best she has all year. Her attitude and everything is much better; she's right on track," says Sherard.All the senior ladies got a bit of a boost when 1990 national champion Jill Trenary, who's out of this competition because of ankle surgery, announced Wednesday that she will not be able to skate in the World Championships next month. That means that all three medalists at the Minneapolis nationals will advance to the Worlds. If Trenary had chosen to compete at the Worlds, only two medalists would have qualified.

"It's just kind of nice to know what she's going to do," says Sherard.

Cook lost training because ice time has been hard to get at her home rink. She trained for a while in Denver and then in Colorado Springs in the last three months.

Wednesday, two of Cook's Utah Figure Skating Club teammates competed. Skyline High student Jennifer Downing, 18, finished fifth in the championship ladies' figures, which is now a separate competition, and Eddie Gornik, 14, of Cottonwood Heights, stood 10th after the novice men's original program. He was fifth in figures on Tuesday. Both are making their first appearances at the national championships.

Downing, who was fourth at the Pacific Coast Sectional at Bountiful in January, finished ahead of those who beat her there. "Two of her figures were pretty good; the last one could have been better," said Sherard.

Gornik fell doing one of the required elements in his original program but can still move up in the long program today. "He enjoys it a little more," says Sherard. However, she says the novice division is getting stronger each year.

Gornik said, "I don't mind if I finish last here. It still means I'd be 12th in the nation. That's neat."

Kelly Ann Szmurlo, 22, of Franklin, Wis., won the first title ever awarded for just compulsory figures at the championships. Szmurlo has skated in four U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Her best overall finish previously was sixth in 1989 at Baltimore.

Other winners Wednesday were Casey Link of Las Vegas in junior women's figures and the local novice dance team of Nicole Dumonceaux of Edina and John Reppucci of Minnetonka.

In senior pairs, favorites Natasha Kuchiki and Todd Sand, skating first out of 14 couples, won the original program, worth one-third of the total score. The free skate will be Friday night.

"I never skated first," the 14-year-old Kuchiki told the 27-year-old Sand. "I was asking him every day if they'd hold back the marks."

They didn't and the 1990 runners-up were in front.

Although Szmurlo stayed in front throughout the compulsories, she isn't convinced holding separate events is right or logical.

"I still feel it should have stayed together," she said, "not that it makes you an all-around skater.

"But it's good on the levels of novice and juniors that know they can't make it in freestyle, that they have another outlet and can still say they have gone to nationals."