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Russians take control of German-free pairs event

Duhamel, Radford second despite fall; Peng, Zhang show improvement

Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov look to be headed to their fifth Grand Prix Final.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov look to be headed to their fifth Grand Prix Final. (AFP)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(11/16/2012) - Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia easily won the short program at Trophée Eric Bompard Friday afternoon in Paris. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada sit in second after a brilliant program, while Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, from China, are third.

To be fully honest, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy's shadow partly covered the competition. The four-time world champions from Germany left the field far more open than it looked before. For the first time in years, no world gold medalist took part in the competition.

Kavaguti and Smirnov continued to explore their string of all-time crowd pleaser musical scores -- this time, Johann Strauss' "Blue Danube." The pair hit its triple twist exactly on tempo and landed a well-synchronized parallel triple toe and throw triple loop to score 66.78 points and win the event.

Even though the Paris crowd did not quite buy their waltz, the pair also managed to devise their program in a way to emphasize their dancing tempo.

"We are happy with our performance," Kavaguti said. "Also, we scored much better than at Cup of China."

They got Level 4 for all their elements but for an unexpected one: Their death spiral was only credited with a Level 1. Asked what had caused it, Kavaguti blushed and Smirnov commented with a grin that could be interpreted like "That's life!"

Canadian champions Duhamel and Radford certainly offered the most beautiful program of the afternoon, set to music from crowd pleaser Charles Aznavour's "Ma Bohème." Duhamel fell on her triple Lutz, but the couple's program was perfect otherwise and was mostly very emotional throughout. These skaters have found a real chemistry between them, well balanced between complicity and unison.

They gained 62.28 points and a Level 4 for their death spiral, lift, step sequence and combination spin.

"We're still very disappointed by our program today," Duhamel said. "We want to skate perfect programs, and I can tell you that tomorrow our program will be perfect! I am so [angry] by my mistake today that I will not repeat it tomorrow -- you can be sure!"

Zhang and his new partner were, of course, much watched upon. They skated first in the short program. Zhang, who can be credited to have created the "hand-down" triple twist with his former partner, Dan Zhang, was just as strong with his new one. Their program, set to "Live and Let Die," by Paul McCartney, displayed the unison they have started building between them.

They skated flawlessly, scoring 59.92 points and beating their season's best.

"We did not really expect this result here," Zhang offered afterward. "It's been a year since I last was in a press conference, and we are still a very new team."

Peng, of course, looked much frailer than her partner, as he is almost twice her age (15 for her to 28 for him), and they project a somewhat unbalanced image of a pair.

"When I started skating with Zao," Peng said, "I felt a little pressure, since he was already such a big athlete. But he was very kind and taught me until I gained confidence."

Their relatively low components scores (6.4 in average), however, show tremendous room for improvement, especially in interpretation.

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, from Italy, who ranked fourth at the 2012 European Championships, had an impressive short to the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," opening with solid triple toes as well as a throw triple loop and smoothly executed steps. They earned 57.30 points and finished fourth.

Dressed in gold-underlined black costumes, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov's Interview with the Vampire did not go as well as expected. The Russian pair, who ranked third in Europe last season, opened with an incomplete triple twist and waited for the last minute of the program to land side-by-side triple toes (Stolbova tumbled on hers) and a throw triple Salchow.

They scored 53.64 points and stand in fifth place, more than six points behind a podium spot.

"Our goal this season was to land our triple twist and throw triple flip," France's Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès said earlier in the season.

Their Rhumba d'Amour ("love rhumba") was exciting to watch, but James doubled her loop and they had problems with their spiral. They sit in seventh place, a rather disappointing result.

Their young teammates, Daria Popova and Bruno Massot, sit right in front of them after a beautifully executed program.