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European Championships open in Helsinki

Finnstep trips up defending ice dance champions Domnina and Shabalin

Defending Europeans champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin faltered in their compulsory dance.
Defending Europeans champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin faltered in their compulsory dance. (Getty Images)

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By J. Barry Mittan, special to icenetwork.com
(01/20/2009) - The 2009 European Figure Skating Championships opened in Helsinki, Finland, with 28 couples competing in the compulsory dance, the Finnstep.

This is the first time that the Finnstep, invented by Finland's own Susanna Rahkomo and Petri Kokko, the 1995 European ice dance champions, and their coach Martin Skotnicky, was performed at an ISU championship event.

"It's a difficult dance," said Italy's Anna Cappellini after an early practice. "Everyone has had trouble with it and making small mistakes because it is new, but it will give the judges a chance to do what they do."

That comment proved prophetic as Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the defending European ice dance champions, dropped to fifth place after the compulsory dance when Shabalin fell near the end of the program. It was the only fall in the event.

"I can't say what happened," Shabalin said. "It's a mystery."

But their teammates, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, who won the bronze medal at last year's Europeans, picked up the slack by scoring a season best 37.43 in the Finnstep to take the early lead.

"We really like the Finnstep because it's such a happy, fun dance," Khokhlova said. "The character of the dance fits us very well."

Italy's Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, who finished fourth last year, also scored a season best to place second in the compulsory dance with 36.03 points.

"We were excited to compete the Finnstep, Scali said. "I had a little stumble but I saved the twizzle."

"It's the first compulsory dance where the man has to twizzle," Faiella joked.

Great Britain's Sinead Kerr and John Kerr, who were sixth last year, bettered their season's best by scoring 34.89 points to place third.

"It felt fantastic to do the Finnstep here in Finland," Sinead Kerr stated.

"I was always a big fan of Susanna Rahkomo and Petri Kokko," John Kerr added.

Current French dance champions Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who placed fifth at Europeans last season, were in fourth place after another season's best of 34.38.

We did our personal best so we are satisfied," Pechalat said. "We only practiced it a few weeks."

Making a strong showing in their first international competition was the new Hungarian team of Nora Hoffmann and Max Zavozin. The couple started skating together after the 2006-07 season but did not compete last year.

Their lively Finnstep brought a burst of applause from the dance's creators and earned them a score of 31, eighth overall.

"When we first learned the steps, we thought it was awkward and weird," Zavozin said. Once we got it, we learned to enjoy it."

The competition will continue with the original dance on January 22.