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Domnina, Shabalin open 1.02-point lead after Tango

2.93 points separate top four teams in standings

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin posted a score of 43.76 in the compulsory dance.
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin posted a score of 43.76 in the compulsory dance. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/20/2010) - Scott Moir said it best.

"You can't win with the compulsory, but you can sure lose with it."

Tonight, Moir and partner Tessa Virtue -- along with Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto -- stayed within striking distance of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.

The Russian world champions opened a narrow, 1.02-point lead after performing a mature, stylish Tango Romantica with near-perfect lines and precision.

As expected, their 43.76 points took the lead, but by only 1.02.

"We are happy and very pleased; we skated our best Tango of the season," Domnina said. "We are optimistic about the future in this competition."

"We are very satisfied with our skating today," Shabalin said. "We feel more confident, compared to Europeans."

At the European Championships in Tallinn last month, the Russians scored 42.78, opening up what turned out to be an insurmountable lead.

Here, they face far stiffer competition: both Virtue and Moir and training mates Davis and White spent the days leading up to Vancouver working with the Tango Romantica's creator, Elena Tchaikovskaya.

The coach, who lives in Moscow, choreographed the dance for her pupils, 1976 Olympic champions Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov, in 1974. She visited the North American ice dancers' training base in Canton, Mich., at the invitation of their coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva.

As it turned out, it was a worthwhile visit -- both teams had season-best performances.

Virtue and Moir had a confident, aggressive Tango that earned 42.74 points, beating their previous personal best of 40.69 at 2009 Skate Canada.

"We knew we would skate like that," Moir said. "That's the way we've been training it at home. We knew we would go out there and lay it down."

"The passion and energy Elena brings is just incredible," Virtue added. "After spending two minutes [training with] her, we were just exhausted...She showed us the way it was meant to be skated, and we kept her key words in our heads."

U.S. champions Davis and White also posted a career-best mark, and with 41.47 points are just 1.30 points out of second.

"We went out there and felt very confident," White said. "We're very happy. It's a good score, three points higher than at [2009] NHK Trophy.

"I think we approached the Tango the way [Tchaikovskaya] had in mind," Davis said. "It has a romantic flavor other Tangos don't necessarily have. Working with her just made us feel way more confident."

Reigning world and Olympic silver medalists Belbin and Agosto are still in the hunt, just .74 out of third place with 40.83.

"We were happy we broke 40 points," Belbin said. "For us, we hadn't performed this dance all year, so we're very satisfied."

"If this is the last compulsory we ever perform, that's awesome," Agosto added. "We felt very good, very aggressive out there. At the [2006] Torino Games, we were in sixth place after the compulsory."

European silver medalists Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali are fifth with 39.88 points.

2008 world champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, who are returning to competition here after a lengthy lay-off due to Delobel's shoulder injury and pregnancy, stand sixth with 37.99.

"We've been off competition for 14 months, so it was a little stressful," Delobel said. "We wanted to give all we had. It's done now. The points were not very high, what can I say?"

"We tripped a little bit," Schoenfelder said. "We were a little disappointed with our performance. It wasn't our best. We felt a little tight in the legs; it was hard to move. We are a little frustrated we didn't give as good a performance as we could."

U.S. bronze medalists Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates are 14th with 31.37 points.

"We were very pleased with that performance," Bates said. "No major errors, no big wobbles, for a compulsory that's really what you want to do, especially since we did the Waltz three weeks ago. We really only had a few weeks to put this dance back to good condition."

Friday night marked the final time compulsory dance will be competed at the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has requested that for the 2014 Olympics, ice dance include just two events, so it is in line with the other figure skating disciplines.

In response, the ISU Ice Dance Technical Committee proposed the current CD and original dance be replaced by a single combination dance, up to 2 minutes 50 seconds long, consisting of 1 minute of a compulsory and an abbreviated, 1 minute 50 second version of an OD.

The new format was demonstrated in Milan last May. The proposal may be voted on further at the 2010 ISU Congress, to be held in Barcelona in June.

Skaters' opinions on the change seem to divide along generational lines.

"For me, I am very sad. I think it is a bad idea," Schoenfelder, 32, said. "I think the compulsories taught skaters the basic skills. With everyone doing the same steps, it was easier to tell the top teams."

Moir, 22, begged to differ.

"Tough for us to say; the four of us [Virtue and Moir, and Davis and White] come from the new judging system, and I don't think compulsory dance has really adjusted in the last 15 years.

"In this new system, so much more has been added to ice dance, it makes sense to cut down to two dances. We'll see where it goes from here."