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Day 1 of GP Final full of surprises

Belbin, Agosto win original dance

Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.
Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(12/14/2007) - The Grand Prix Final in the Palavela rink in Turin, site of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, started with the three short programs and the original dance.

Ice Dancing
There is no compulsory dance at the final. This season, all couples had to skate their original dance to folk music. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto took the lead with a very small advantage of 0.35 points. They had changed the first part of their American country music since their Grand Prix appearances and skated to "Cotton-Eyed Joe" instead of an Appalachian Hoedown. All elements were clean and received a level four -- the curve lift was their best one.

Belbin later said, "We are very happy with our performance today and especially about our high levels. We feel very comfortable in our new costumes. We had mixed feeling about our music. We felt the energy was not high enough, so we switched our first piece and lengthened the 'Cotton-Eyed Joe' part a bit, which we felt connected better with the audience."

In second place are Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder from Lyon in France. They skated to Celtic music from the French province of Brittany. They had the highest program components, possibly because their speed was a bit higher. Five elements earned level fours, but the circular step sequence was just a level three.

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin from Moscow performed a Cossack dance with a lot of energy, but they had some minor problems during their non-touch midline step sequence. They are third place, just under a point behind Delobel and Schoenfelder.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada excelled more than all other couples with many difficult small steps between their high-level elements. All their elements in their Russian "Dark Eyes" program got level fours, but they did not skate as maturely as the top three couples. They sit in fourth place, after earning 61.14 points.

Virtue said, "This is the first time we participated in the Grand Prix Final, and I am so excited to be here with the top skaters on the ice, which is challenging for us."

Men
Daisuke Takahashi took the lead after the short program, just 0.40 points ahead of second place. He got a huge applause for his hip-hop version of "Swan Lake." His two step sequences exactly in the rhythm of the music were excellent and even got a plus rating from one judge, but he was not as rapid as at Skate America. He did not try a quad, but his four triple jumps, including his combination of triple flip and triple toe loop, got a +2 13 times.

For the first time in a long period, Stéphane Lambiel performed an almost faultless short program and is in second place. Even his triple Axel, often a problem for him, was safe. On the other hand, his combination of quad and triple toe loop had little flow, and his Lutz was a bit shaky. His interpretation of the "Carne Cruda" tango music was excellent, and his three excellent spins all earned level fours.

Evan Lysacek from Los Angeles is in third place. He overturned the quad toe loop in his combination, but he was able to add a triple toe loop later in the program. Two of his other jumps were very good, though, and so were his spins and steps. His flying sit spin even got a +2 by seven of the ten judges. Clothed all in black as usual, he skated to the soundtrack of Zorro's Mask.

He commented, "I was set to go for higher difficulty, so I am proud of that. Maybe it wasn't perfect right now, but I am happy that I got through and got some really good elements."

Johnny Weir from Wayne, N.J., fell on his triple Axel and sits in fourth place. All other elements were good, however, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and three level four spins.

He said, "I am happy to be here and participate at this important final. I can do a better program. I fell on the triple Axel because I was too high in the air and I lost my balance."

Kevin van der Perren of Belgium gave a flawless, but relatively slow performance and is fifth. Canadian youngster Patrick Chan stepped out of both of his combination jumps and is in sixth place.

Ladies
Yu-Na Kim of South Korea is first after the ladies short program in which all top favorites made at least one mistake. Her flow on the ice is superior to all the other ladies, and most of her jumps look very easy. But this time she touched down her hand on the triple flip and could add only a single toe loop. All other elements, however, were excellent and got many +2s.

U.S. skater Caroline Zhang is second and was happy that her triple jumps were not downgraded this time. The Lutz was a bit shaky, but the other elements were clean. Her spins were as perfect and acrobatic as usual.

She said, "To be in the final here in Turin is a big surprise for me. It is the first time for me to compete at the senior Grand Prix. I am very satisfied with my program."

The difference between third and sixth place is less than one point. Italy's Carolina Kostner is third after performing a good triple flip-triple toe loop combination, but she singled her Axel.

Kimmie Meissner is only fifth because she did not land her triple toe loop backwards after the triple Lutz, and her flip was jumped from the wrong edge.

But in spite of this, she commented, "I am happy with my short program. Tomorrow I will do a triple-triple, and I will do my best to take the gold."

In fourth is Yukari Nakano of Japan, who did only a combination of triple flip (from the wrong edge) and double toe loop, but collected many points with her spins. The other skater from Japan, Mao Asada, missed her triple loop after the triple flip, a mistake she had already done in her last four competitions. She was so shocked that she left out the next element, a triple Lutz out of steps. These costly mental mistakes left her in last place.

Pairs
The German pair, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, won the pairs short program. Although Savchenko landed the triple throw flip on two feet, they set a new pairs short program world record with 72.14 points. All other elements were clean and performed in very high quality. For the first time, they got several program components over eight, because their style is superior to all the other couples in the world.

But afterwards, they were critical as usual, "It was hard to skate, and we were a little bit behind our music. But we are pleased with the level of elements. This is what we have been working for."

Second was Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, who skated a clean and powerful short program. Their triple twist even got two +3s and seven +2s. The second Chinese pair, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, also made no mistakes and is third. Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison of Canada finished in fourth place. They had to interrupt their lift earlier than planned and got no points for that element.

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker from Colorado Springs, Colo., cannot be too happy about their performance, although they did not say this. McLaughlin singled the Salchow, which was a planned triple, and landed the triple throw loop on two feet. Nevertheless, Brubaker said, "For us, it is the first time in Turin, and to skate on an Olympic rink is a very nice sensation. I missed practice this morning because I have tendonitis in my left foot. It was really sore to get into the boot. But it did not affect me while I was skating."

Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov of Russia were sixth because they did one turn too many on the lift, got zero points for this element, and two points of deduction as an illegal element.