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Chinese pair wins gold medal in Beijing

Domnina, Shabalin still lead; Abbott surprises men

Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang won gold with the highest total score of any pair all season.
Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang won gold with the highest total score of any pair all season. (Getty Images)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(11/07/2008) - Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China struck gold in the pairs event on Friday at the Samsung Anycall Cup of China. The men's competition was a surprise with U.S. skater Jeremy Abbott taking the short program ahead of unheralded Canadian Vaughn Chipeur. Earlier, Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the original dance but still trail Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin by 0.35 points overall.

Pairs

Zhang and Zhang put out a solid performance to the "Yangtze River" piano concerto to claim the gold medal in their first Grand Prix event of the year. They nailed their trademark big throws, but Dan Zhang struggled with the solo jumps. She under-rotated the first triple toe in what was planned as a triple toe-triple toe sequence, and the sequence didn't count anymore. She then doubled the side-by-side triple Salchow. The Chinese still earned 115.10 points and got 182.22 overall -- the highest total score any pair has achieved so far this season.

"We are very happy to have won today. It means a lot to us," Hao Zhang said. "In 1998, we won the gold medal at the Junior Grand Prix here in this ice rink, and 10 years later we are still around and jumping. We are 80 percent satisfied with our free skating today. The lacking 20 percent are 10 percent for the errors on the jumps and 10 percent for the performance itself."

Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov of the Ukraine won the silver medal -- their first medal in the Grand Prix Series -- and showed much improvement over last season. The couple, which now trains alongside reigning world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in Germany, hit a triple toe-triple toe sequence, a high triple twist and throw triple Salchow. She put down her hand on the throw triple loop though, and he doubled the side-by-side triple Salchow. Volosozhar and Morozov beat Zhang and Zhang on the technical score (59.91-56.30) but were ranked second with a total free skate score of 114.71. The Ukrainians' total of 175.05 points was a new career high.

"We skated well today, like we did in the short program, but we had two errors, again on the throw and on the Salchow. These were technical mistakes, but we are very happy to have won our first medal on the Grand Prix," Volosozhar commented.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China finished third at 171.86 points. Tong, who is still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, singled the second jump in the double Axel-double Axel sequence, and Pang cheated the triple toe later on. The triple twist, which was one of their best elements in the past, was messy, but the two other throws were strong.

"For today, we are quite happy. It was like a good practice for us. We wanted to give a good performance for the audience, but unfortunately we couldn't do that fully. The reason is my injury and the lack of practice time," Tong explained.

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig of the U.S. were fourth with 143.88 points. She fell on the triple toe, and he put down his hand on the triple Salchow. Both solo jumps were downgraded on top of that, but all the pair elements, including the throws and innovative lifts, were well done.

Ice Dancing

Belbin and Agosto are catching up to their Russian rivals and training mates. The Americans, who won silver at the 2006 Olympics, won the original dance with a solid performance of their tap dance program and are now just 0.35 points behind Domnina and Shabalin.

Belbin and Agosto scored a new season best -- 58.08 -- and now have 95.23 total points. However, the Americans were surprised to see only a Level 2 for their side-by-side midline footwork and a Level 3 for their set of twizzles.

"I think the program was a little bit reserved today. Maybe we were thinking a little bit too much about the levels, and, in the end, that resulted in not getting the levels, because we didn't have as much flow on our edges, not so much speed. So we go home and work on that. I think the program is worthy of high levels if we perform it correctly. So I don't think we need to change it, we just need to train it," Belbin pointed out.

"Each time it's getting a little better," Agosto commented on their season-best score. "I think our circle [footwork] was definitely a bit smoother [than at Skate America two weeks ago], and overall it just felt like we were performing a little bit better. We had more power and more confidence. It's a good step forward. Next time, will be even better, and each time we get a season's best, hopefully."

Domnina and Shabalin, who moved to Aston, Pa., to train under Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karpanossov shortly after Belbin and Agosto moved there, also got a few low levels, such as a two for their circular steps and their spin.

"Obviously, we didn't get the levels we would have liked -- except for the twizzles," Shabalin said.

For this dance, the couple picked a waltz by Dmitri Shostakovitch from 1934, which is an unusual choice.

"First of all, we wanted to set ourselves apart, and I think we did that," Domina answered when asked about this selection. "We put the emphasis on the acting skills to project the '30s with our costumes and expression."

They underlined that they made sure beforehand that they could use a waltz for the OD. The majority of other dance teams are using rhythms such as Blues, Swing, Foxtrot or Quickstep.

Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia remained in third overall, but they placed only fourth in the OD after Khokhlova wobbled on a twizzle.

"Jana turned out on the twizzle. I think this is easy to explain. After all, this is our first competition, and we see what we have to work on further, although we didn't make errors in practice," Novitski explained.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy received the highest technical score of the day and were ranked third in the original dance. Overall, they remained in fourth place.

Men

Daisuke Takahashi's withdrawal due to a recent knee injury left the door wide open for the men at the Cup of China.

Abbott stepped up to the challenge and took the lead in the short program, although his wasn't a perfect performance. He decided not to do his planned early combination when he did a three-turn out of the landing of the first jump, a triple flip. Instead, he tacked a triple toe on to his triple Lutz later in the routine, which was set to "Adagio" by Tomaso Albinoni. Abbott also landed a triple Axel and got high levels for his spins and footwork, earning 77.05 points, a new personal best.

"I thought today was a bit of a fight. I was very excited about my result and my placement. It is much different this year than last. It went well, but it was a bit of a struggle, and I had to fight through some things. But I got the job done, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow," Abbott said. "Last season was very interesting for me because it was my first season on the Grand Prix. It was the first time that I tried a quad in my program, so there were lots of new variables that made me very uncomfortable. But having gone through that, I think it made me a lot stronger so that this season I could come back and I could deliver a much stronger performance and continue to build through my career. Even though last year was not what I wanted, I was very glad that it went the way it did so I could use it as a stepping stone to improve and to do better this year."

Chipeur was even more of a surprise. He turned in a personal-best performance, set to "Come On Baby" by Joe Satriani, that featured a triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe combination, a triple flip and Level 4 spins. The Canadian scored 72.70 points (43.80/28.90).

"I'm really pleased with the way today went. I thought the program had really good energy. The choreography that Kurt Browning did worked really well, and it's been a really good change for me and really good vehicle for the year," Chipeur said. "The program was really all about capturing my strengths, and those are the power and speed. Working with Kurt was a great experience. We focused a lot on, obviously, those strengths and then also on the performance factor. We spent a lot of time focusing on making sure the audience was involved a little and the program had more of a performance, instead of just being a short program."

Stephen Carriere came in third and is close to the leaders with 72.00 points. He stepped out of the triple toe in combination with a triple flip, but the triple Axel, the triple Lutz and the spins and footwork were strong.

"It was a little tentative, not my normal self. I definitely know that I can get a lot more energy than what happened today. With that skate, I'm happy that I went out there and did my job as best as I could. It was the best I could do today. I'm definitely going to push more. My body is here; everything is here now for the long tomorrow," Carriere promised.

European Champion Tomas Verner did not have such a good day. The Czech popped his planned quad toe into a double. He wanted to save points for the combination and added a double toe to his triple Lutz, but this idea backfired. You are not allowed to repeat a jump in the short program, and the whole combination did not count. Verner finished fourth with 65.55 points.