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Day 1 concludes at NHK Trophy

Pairs, Ice dancing competitions highlight first day in Japan

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder.
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(11/29/2007) - Reigning European champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won the pairs short program on the first night of action at the NHK Trophy.

The duo, wearing flashy outfits (she in turquoise, he in white), skated near flawlessly to "Asoka," finishing with a personal best mark of 70.32.

"We are happy with our performance tonight," said Szolkowy. "It was better than last week in Moscow (where they finished second at the Cup of Russia). We made a few mistakes on some small things, but overall it was good. We hope tomorrow will be better."

The highlight of their program was a perfectly executed Group 5 Axel lasso lift.

The costumes, which featured circular openings down the sides, were a hit with both the audience and Japanese media.

"Our coach (Ingo Steuer) and the two of us came up with these (costumes)," said Savchenko. "That's the way we do things. The three of us always work together."

Savchenko and Szoklowy, who won Skate Canada, have already clinched a spot in next month's Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy.

Ukraine's Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, skating to "The Feeling Begins" by Peter Gabriel, finished a surprising second with a total of 60.14. The pair is coached by Nikolai Morozov (no relation to Stanislav).

Canada's Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, who won Skate America, were third with a total of 58.16 after performing to "Galicia Flamenco." They were marked down after Dube fell on their opening triple Salchow, but recovered to pull off a nice Group 5 Axel lasso lift of their own.

"It was our weakest outing of the Grand Prix season," Davison noted. "We need to improve our presentation, increase our speed and up our performance level."

American pair Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, skating to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," came in fourth at 55.66. They were a bit awkward on their triple Lutz twist lift early in their program, and McLaughlin fell on their throw triple loop later.

Despite the miscues, the pair said they felt their showing was an "improvement from the Cup of China," where they placed second.

"The good thing about the new format is that you can make up points in the long run," Brubaker said.

Rockne also admitted that his unique first name - which he shares with his father - came from legendary former Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.

"My grandfather was a big football fan," Brubaker said with a smile.

France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, who won the Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire earlier this month, were in first place after the compulsory dance round; each team performed the Argentine Tango over a five-minute session.

The French pair, who finished fourth at last year's Grand Prix Final, posted a score of 38.96 to lead the Canadian team of Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue (34.67) by more than four points.

Russia's Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski were in third place at 34.23.

The brother and sister duo of Cathy and Chris Reed, Japanese-Americans born in the U.S., but who have chosen to skate for Japan via their dual citizenship, were in last place with a tally of 25.45.

The ladies singles competition, headlined by 2007 world champion Miki Ando , is set to begin on Friday evening, following the ice dance original program and pairs free skate.

Daisuke Takahashi, the silver medalist at last season's worlds, will begin defense of his NHK Trophy title in men's singles on Saturday afternoon, when the short program is held.