Comebacks earn men's and ice dancing gold
Lambiel, Domnina and Shabalin win at GP Final
|Stephane Lambiel took home the gold from the Grand Prix Final, just as he did two years ago. (Getty Images)|
Between first and third place in ice dancing, there was a difference of only two points. The winners of the competition were Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin. They have strong support from their own federation, which is desperately looking for at least one or two new stars in any category since all Russian medal winners from the 2006 Olympics (Evgeni Plushenko, Irina Slutskaya, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, and Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov) finished their ISU career after Turin. Domnina and Shabalin showed strong and powerful elements (all level fours) in the free dance to the Masquerade Waltz by Aram Khatchaturian and also got high program components (around 8.35).
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the United States, who had won the original dance, finished second overall. They are in better shape now than than they were at this point last season, and it showed in their maturity, strength and smooth flow on the ice during their Chopin free dance. This past spring, they started to prepare their new programs in May and June, earlier than in 2006 when they were on the Champions on Ice tour until July.
During their free dance, their components were higher, around 8.3 on the average. All elements except the serpentine lift got level fours. But this lift, with a level three, got more plus points than their other elements -- two judges gave a +3, and seven a +2. Belbin and Agosto are certainly in good hands, as Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva are of the best dance coaches in the world.
Belbin later said, "It was a great afternoon, and the audience was very supportive. We felt we made some steps forward. There is nothing to be disappointed about this season. But we will ask around what they did not like about our serpentine lift. There are so many things to think about."
Agosto added, "It was great ice dancing today. If you compare the athleticism of the lifts and intricacy of the steps with the things ice dancers did some time ago."
France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, who finished second in the original dance, dropped to the bronze medal after finishing third in the free dance. They had the same level of elements as Domnina and Shabalin but lacked a bit of their passion and warm relationship to the audience. That is why they are not huge stars, even in France, with it's strong ice dance tradition.
In their program, set to music taken by Michael Nyman's soundtrack of The Piano, they play a love story of two mute people, but without too many emotions, which reflects the character of the couple. After their performance, they could not know that at the same time Didier Gailhaguet was elected new French federation president in Paris.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. They train with Belbin and Agosto but are more than an up-and-coming couple. They are the hardest workers of all the teams in Italy, and they had even higher elements scores (all level four) than their training mates. But at only 18 (Virtue) and 20 (Moir) years old, they danced with a bit less maturity than the three top couples here. Therefore, their program components were a bit lower. Almost all experts say they might be future Olympic champions, if not in 2010 then in 2014. Some people like their free dance music, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," while others criticized it for not showing enough depth.
The fight for the men's gold medal between Daisuke Takahashi of Japan and Stéphane Lambiel of Switzerland was very close -- there was a difference of only 0.16 points. The winner was Lambiel, although he stepped out of his quad and his triple axel. The two-time world champion collected many points with his six other triple jumps, his excellent spins and his steps. He is a skater and artist, who won because of his program components. His flamenco program is a masterpiece in style, interpretation and body movements.
Afterwards he commented, "I really had the flamenco spirit in my program today. This season I feel much more comfortable than last season. I am proud of myself. When the first quad did not work, I decided to play safe and not to try another won, but a triple-triple combination instead. It is sad that you get more points if you take out a risk, but these are the rules. Like Evan Lysacek, I think that you should get more points for a quad."
Takahashi of Japan won silver thanks to his strength -- skating with deep edges and a lot of body flexibility. After his first quad ended as a triple he tried a second one, and this time it was successful. Five triple jumps followed, but he doubled his Salchow. His step sequences were excellent as well.
He commented, "The result is okay for me, although I came here to win this event. I have no time for a rest because we have nationals in two weeks."
Lysacek, the reigning U.S. champion, won the second seasonal battle against his American rival and three-time national champion Johnny Weir (2004-2006). Lysacek still finished over nine points behind Takahashi. He had a good start with a clean combination of quad and triple toe loop, but his triple Axel was shaky and downgraded. The loop was good, but he fell on the Salchow. The rest of his program was clean, including a second triple Axel, three more triples and an emphatic step sequence near the end, which is one of his trademarks.
Later, he said, "I am glad to be in this building again, because overall, I have good feelings about the Olympics. Today I had to fight hard to stay over my feet. There are so many tricks in my program. I am so happy that I got level four for my steps for the first time."
Weir finished fourth in the free skate and fourth overall, more than 13 points behind his countryman. He seemed more consistent at his Grand Prix appearances than in the two seasons before, even if he missed the triple Axel in the short program at the Final. His new coach, Galina Zmievskaya, is stricter and harsher to him than his longtime coach Priscilla Hill, who had become too close a friend. With his quads not consistent yet, he has not tried them in competition this season. In the free program in Turin, he started with two triple Axels, followed by three other triples, but fell on the flip and doubled the loop. But he collected many points with his elegant style, spins and steps, though he was a bit slow.
"I was tired even when I started skating. I have to get a rest and then hopefully come back refreshed and ready to fight at nationals," he said afterwards.
Patrick Chan of Canada, who will turn 17 at the end of December, was fifth with eight triple jumps, but he got lower program components than the top four skaters. Kevin van der Perren of Belgium finished sixth.