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Dancers fight for survival at Grand Prix Final

Injuries and illness strike most of the couples

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Shoenfelder, as well as the rest of the ice dancers at Four Continents and the European Championships, will be dancing the Finnstep.
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Shoenfelder, as well as the rest of the ice dancers at Four Continents and the European Championships, will be dancing the Finnstep. (Getty Images)

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By J. Barry Mittan, special to icenetwork.com
(12/13/2008) - The story of the dance competition at the SBS ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final (GPF) was not about the skating, but rather the health of the skaters as half of the field went down due to injuries and illness.

Russia's Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski withdrew first when he suffered a bout of food poisoning and could not compete in the original dance. Then the U. S. team of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto pulled out before the free dance when Agosto injured his back.

The Italian team of Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali were questionable after she sliced open the ring finger of her right hand in a fall on a combination spin in the Saturday morning practice, but the team competed with her hand heavily bandaged after she received six stitches.

"We were afraid the ligament was affected because the cut was deep," Scali said. "But we had to keep going and be strong and compete."

France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder won the free dance with a season best 95.75 points, giving them a total score of 156.10 and the gold medal. The couple, who also won the original dance, skated to Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky."

It was the first gold medal at the Grand Prix Final for the 2008 world ice dancing champions, who had competed at the event five times previously with only one bronze medal to show for it.

Even the champions were in danger of missing the competition. "I have been sick all day vomiting," Delobel said. "I never really thought about withdrawing. This is one of our last seasons and we want to give everything each time. Only if I had been a lot worse and had to go to hospital, would we have withdrawn."

"Bravo to Isabelle for making it through," Schoenfelder added. "Many others would have withdrawn from the competition. It's a great joy to us to win the Final for the first time."

They did take out one of their lifts. "It is very difficult and requires pressure on the abdomen and we decided it was not worth doing," Delobel explained.

Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who were second after the original dance placed second in the free dance. Using the music of "Spartacus," they finished a season best 93.62 points, well below their personal best of 104.99. They won the silver medal with 152.95 total points.

The 2008 European ice dancing champions, who won last season's Grand Prix Final, have had their own injury problems with Shabalin still recovering from knee surgery.

"We went out in a fighting mood," Shabalin said. "The most important thing is that I feel much better with my knee injury so we can work at 100 percent. With each day, each week it gets better."

U. S. dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who were fifth after the original dance, skated to selections from Saint-Saens' "Samson et Dalila." They finished third in the free dance with a score of 92.15 points.

The dancers won the bronze medal with 148.04 points overall in their first Final.

"It's great to be able to come here and medal," White said. "It was one of the best performances we've put out. It's been a good progression and we feel like we topped it off here."

Skating to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," Faiella and Scali were cautious after Faiella's injury. They scored 87.23 points, fourth in the free dance.

They couple, who were third in the original dance, finished fourth overall with 145.12 points in their first Final.

"We are a little upset about the technical mark because it's very low," Scali said. "We lost a medal but sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."