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Joubert survives free skate, wins Skate Canada gold

Canadian ice dancers celebrate on home ice

Brian Joubert could celebrate with gold on Sunday, even though his free skate was not as dominating as his short program was on Friday.
Brian Joubert could celebrate with gold on Sunday, even though his free skate was not as dominating as his short program was on Friday. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin / special to icenetwork.com
(11/04/2007) - QUEBEC CITY -- Looks of dismay washed over the faces of the men's overnight leaders after error-filled free skate performances on Sunday at HomeSense Skate Canada International.

At the other end of the spectrum, Belgium's Kevin van der Perren, fifth after the short, beamed after his successful free program.

When the numbers were crunched, world champion Brian Joubert was able to hold his first-round lead, despite finishing second to van der Perren in the free skate final. The Frenchman pocketed gold with 213.62 points.

The Belgian soared into second place overall (202.55) on the wings of the only successful quadruple jump to materialize in the final group. His only error in his dramatic "Lawrence of Arabia" program was the doubling of his second planned triple Axel. Still, he was too far back of Joubert going into the free skate to overtake him for the title.

"Before I skated, my coach [Vera Vandecaveye] said, 'Don't be a little girl. Don't be scared. Go for it like you do in practice,'" van der Perren reported.

Canadian champion Jeff Buttle held onto third with 198.77 points after downgrading three triples to doubles and falling on his Lutz. The 2006 Olympic bronze medalist's brilliant footwork and well-choreographed program saved him from falling off the podium, a fate that was suffered by Yannick Ponsero. The French medal hopeful sank from second to sixth overall after committing numerous mistakes, costing him point reductions on almost every jump in his free program, which ranked 10th-best.

Joubert, who was golden at every championship last season, crashed on his quadruple toe loop to open, then barely hung on to his triple Axel in his program set to The Unforgiven soundtrack. As things began to unravel, Joubert improvised on the fly, trying to collect as many technical points as he could. It worked.

"I'm very disappointed about my free program," said Joubert, who delivered a superb short on Friday. "After the first quad, I was very surprised because I fell.

"I didn't have pleasure today. I was very nervous because I was thinking about what jumps I had to do, but that's life."

Buttle was happy with his opening triple Axel-triple toe, which scored a whopping 12.30 points, but anxiousness thwarted him the rest of the way. "I turned my brain on and started to overthink a bit," he explained.

Joubert's choreographer and four-time world champion Kurt Browning, commentating here for CBC-TV, summed up the event with these words: "It's a little disappointing because the potential for a great event was there."

Joubert and van der Perren compete next at the Paris Grand Prix in two weeks, while Buttle is bound for Moscow.

Chinese men's competitor Jialiang Wu (11th) is the only skater among all the men, women, pairs and ice dancers here who is slated to compete next week in Harbin, China, at the Cup of China.

Among the three U.S. men entered, Jeremy Abbott led his teammates, finishing in eighth with 171.06 points after a fourth-place free skate. Scott Smith was ninth (169.97) and Geoffry Varner 12th out of the 12 skaters (134.54).

Canadians Golden on Home Ice

Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were golden from start to finish in the ice dance event, confirming expectations that the young couple -- ages 18 and 20 -- could wind up on the world podium come March.

Their playfully romantic "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" free dance earned a roaring standing ovation and an impressive 99.62 points, giving them a total of 197.07 for the meet. Their inventive lifts were created with help from an acrobat with the famed Cirque du Soleil.

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotee remained in second spot with 171.57 points, ahead of French duo Pernelle Carron and Mathieu Jost. (167.83). Both couples will compete again at the Paris Grand Prix in two weeks.

The Canadians' total score is inching towards points totals recorded by world champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski of Bulgaria (201) and silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon of Canada (200) at the end of last season. Neither pair is competing this season.

"We are thinking three weeks ahead in Japan when we have a French team [Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder], top-of-the-world competition, and we're going to need all the points we can get," said Moir, the 2006 world junior champion. The couple was sixth at their first senior world championship last season.

The top-ranked couples had to be rattled by the horrific fall that American Melissa Gregory took with one minute to go in their warm-up, but all teams seemed to refocus on the job at hand when it was their turn to perform.

Gregory and her partner Denis Petukhov had been doing a rotational lift when she lost their grip and flew into the air landing hard on her chest, according to the event's medical officer. The other competitors left the ice while first aid workers rushed to Gregory's aid.

After some 15 minutes had elapsed, Gregory was loaded into an ambulance and transported to L'Enfant-Jesus Hospital. A CT scan was clear, and Gregory was released later in the day. The American couple, the national silver medalists, had been fourth heading into the final.

"It was scary on warm-up. We just hope they are alright," Moir said.

Virtue added, "It reminds you how dangerous the sport can be."