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Berton, Hotarek sink teeth into Skate Canada gold

Sui, Han post top segment score for silver; Canadians settle for bronze
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Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek gave Italy its first Grand Prix gold medal in pairs. -Getty Images

The Italian team of Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek did not plan any of the events that happened this past week at 2013 Skate Canada, but the chaos culminated with their first Grand Prix gold medal. And they made skating history by becoming the first Italian pairs team to win a Grand Prix event. 

The couple had a disappointing showing a week ago, placing fifth at Skate America. They made a quick turnaround, leaving Detroit for Saint John, New Brunswick, and Hotarek's skates were lost along the way. Then Saturday morning, their coach, Franca Bianconi, overslept and missed the couple's morning practice.

So for them to earn the top spot on the podium was a bit of a surprise, but also a pleasant one.  

"We are very, very proud," Bianconi said. "This is something no one from our country ever did. This one was not expected."

Especially considering that Canadian world bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford entered Skate Canada as the favorites.

Duhamel and Radford were the leaders after the short program, but they held just a slight advantage (0.21 points) over Berton and Hotarek and were just 0.55 points ahead of Chinese pair Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. All three of the top teams knew any mistake in the free skate could be costly.

Sui and Han were the first of the top three teams to skate, and they opened their program with a quadruple twist. Their routine, performed to Russian folk music, also featured huge throws, including a throw triple flip in which Sui soared through the air. They ended up winning the free skate with 124.75 points.

The Italians followed them with their strong Dracula-themed routine, and with the exception of a triple Salchow, of which Berton two-footed the landing, it was strong overall. The couple's reverse lasso lift, which finished with Hotarek hoisting Berton in the air with one arm, was especially impressive. They earned a season's-best score of 124.54 for the free skate.

The Canadians were the last team to skate. Performing to music from Alice in Wonderland, they made one major mistake on their lift, in which they started the maneuver but then couldn't hold onto it and had to abort. They didn't receive any points for the element, which, if they had performed it as they usually do, would have garnered them about eight points. (They did it in the short program and earned 7.70 points.)

What frustrated them most was that they did not receive high levels for some of their other elements. Usually, the couple earns higher technical marks than program components scores, so to have that flip flop this time was a bit perplexing to them.

At this competition, they earned 54.71 points for their technical elements and 66.34 in components for a free skate total of 121.05. They placed third in the free skate and were third overall.

"After you have a skate like that, where you bring the energy toward the end, you have a different expectation as to points," Radford said. "We'll have to go back and review everything and make sure that we get the levels next time, because it's such a waste to go out there and do that and get that type of score."

Duhamel had suffered an injury to her right shoulder after a fall on a throw during a recent practice, but the couple said that was not an excuse for the performance here or for the missed lift. They said they performed the lift fine when they debuted the program at a local competition a couple of weeks ago, and it was smooth in the short program here.

World junior champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, competing in their first senior-level Grand Prix, placed fifth. Skating to music from the soundtrack of Notre-Dame de Paris, the couple opened its program with a huge triple twist. Denney fell during the couple's side-by-side double Axels, and their death spiral earned Level 1 marks.  

Still, for a young team --- Denney turns 18 in two days and Frazier will be 21 next month --- they seemed pleased.

"It was pretty good," Frazier said. "It definitely was a step up from our last competition, but we still have lots of work."

Their total score of 158.83 was an improvement over their first major competition of the season, the Ondrej Nepela Memorial, where they scored 142.48 points.

The other American team at Skate Canada was Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker, which moved up from seventh after the short program to sixth. The team, formed in February, struggled on the descent of its reverse lasso lift, and Davis fell on the landing of the throw triple Lutz.

"We have to go back and watch some of the video," Brubaker said of the lift. "We have to try to make that change a little smoother."

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