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First day in China brings surprises

Belbin and Agosto in second place after compulsory dance

Can Caroline Zhang unseat U.S. champion Kimmie Meisser at U.S. Championships?
Can Caroline Zhang unseat U.S. champion Kimmie Meisser at U.S. Championships? (Getty Images)

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By Tatjana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(11/08/2007) - The first day of the ISU Grand Prix Cup of China in Harbin didn't start too well for Americans Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto.

The worlds bronze medalists turned in a solid Argentine tango, but were overtaken by Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia. The Russians ended the day with a score of 38.77, nearly three points in front of Belbin and Agosto's 35.89.

Domnina and Shabalin also scored high on the technical elements, earning many +2 and +1 GOE for their performance.

"I felt we skated really well. It felt good. This is a good dance for us. We've been working hard on it all summer and it really feels like it has come a long way. We're looking forward to the [original dance]. I don't like to have to make up ground after the compulsory, but it's a situation we've found ourselves in before", Agosto said.

He tried not to let his disappointment show, but it was still there.

Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy finished third with 33.54 points, which was an improvement over their compulsory dance score from Skate America. They have a considerable lead over the fourth-ranked couple, Alexandra and Roman Zaretski of Israel, and the fifth-ranked team of Sinead and John Kerr of Great Britain.

The pairs team of Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, and Caroline Zhang had more reason to smile. McLaughlin and Brubaker finished second in the pairs short program while Zhang's performance was good enough for second place in the ladies short program.

Zhang hit a triple flip-triple toe combo and, unlike at Skate America, it wasn't downgraded and she received full credit for it. The 14-year-old also performed the remaining seven elements well and is only 2.6 points behind leader Carolina Kostner of Italy. The European champion also nailed the triple flip-triple toe, but she barely held on to her triple Lutz. She scored 60.82 points. World bronze medalist Yu-Na Kim of Korea, another top contender here in China, made a mistake in her combination, which turned out only as a triple flip-single toe. She came in third with 58.32 points.

"I am happy with my performance. It could have been better, but I think I held my spins this time, better than at Skate America. My jumps could have been bigger and I really was slow today, but I am pleased with my overall performance," Zhang told the press conference in a cute mix of English and Mandarin. The ladies free skating on Saturday could have a lot of suspense as the leaders are separated by fewer than 2.5 points.

American Alissa Czisny botched her triple Lutz, which was also downgraded, and her triple flip-double toe combo was shaky. She currently is ranked fifth at 51.08 points. Beatisia Liang came in seventh. She doubled her flip. A solo double jump is not allowed in the senior ladies short program.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong skated a lot better than at Skate America two weeks ago. They landed a side-by-side triple toe, a throw triple loop and a big triple twist, but their pairs spin was slow. The Chinese pair enjoyed skating in front of their home crowd. They are actually from Harbin, but moved to Beijing to train several years ago.

McLaughlin and Brubaker had a good, but not perfect, performance of their new "Moonlight Sonata" short program. McLaughlin fell on the side-by-side triple Salchow, which was downgraded.

The lowest-ranked couple of the event, Canadians Jessica Miller and Ian Moram were third. They didn't make a major error and were just thrilled to be here.

The pairs competition overall wasn't as exciting. Only seven couples competed after Germans Mari Vartmann and Florian Just withdrew Thursday morning when Vartmann came down with a stomach flu.