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Pechalat, Bourzat defend home turf, pocket gold

French couple prevails, as expected; Cappellini, Lanotte take second; Hubbell, Donohue excel

French duo Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat won handily in front of their home crowd.
French duo Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat won handily in front of their home crowd. (AFP)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(11/17/2012) - Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, from France, won the free dance, which was the last event at Trophée Eric Bompard on Saturday night in Paris. They earned 100.42 points for their free dance and 168.90 overall.

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte stand in second, 15 points behind the leaders (87.08 points for the free, 153.26 overall). Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, from Russia, took the bronze with 87.80 in the free and 146.03 overall. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the U.S. team, earned the second-best score in the free dance (88.69 points) and ended only 0.80 points away from the podium (145.23 total score).

Péchalat and Bourzat were favorites to win. They delivered a strong performance to their Rolling Stones medley, earning Level 4 for each one of their four lifts and a Level 3 for their step sequences and twizzles.

"This victory was quite difficult for us," Bourzat explained when they left the ice. "We, nonetheless, have skated a good program. The audience sounded like the one in Nice, and that boosted us tremendously. It helped us get out of our stress."

"You know, we have a technical element every 10 seconds," Péchalat added. "We can't just take the time to listen to the music, have fun and dance. We still have to focus on our elements. This program is difficult, and it still requires a lot of concentration. Things will improve as the season goes."

The four songs of the Rolling Stones they picked for their dance allowed them to dance a lot more than before, especially in their upper bodies -- and their whole bodies, actually. Their creative and "wild" lifts (in consistency with their music) drove the audience crazy.

"This year, we decided not to select a specific story," Péchalat had explained earlier. "We elected to take the same approach as for last year's short dance to Rio's samba. We wanted to dance for the sake of dancing. The Rolling Stones are more about physical and emotional states than a real story."

"It may be a plus to have a readable story to tell," Bourzat added, "but we have to work in any style."

"Of course, you have to commit to such a choice," Péchalat emphasized. "My mental [coach] told me: 'A diamond has many facets.' Well, I pay him for that, I must say -- our skating has many facets, too."

"Every year, the fact that we renew our choreographic vocabulary pushes us forward. Our idea for perfection imposes that we have every style in store," Bourzat said.

Cappellini and Lanotte, sixth in the world last season, had a great program to Carmen. They were so expressive throughout, so light in their skating and so round in their moves. Cappellini and Lanotte nonetheless had to endure a very bad fall by Lanotte right from the start of their program, when he fell heavily in the middle of his twizzles.

"I was surprised," Cappellini said. "I was concentrated on my own twizzles and I heard a big noise behind me."

"It was my knee!" Lanotte said, laughing. "Then I had a choice. I had a big opportunity to learn something and have a strong reaction, or I could let my program die. I chose the former."

"I was so proud of Luca," Cappellini said. "He reacted so quickly. Then I kept smiling at him to make him sure that I was not mad at him and calm him down, as it was so early in the program.

"At least, as a commentator put it, this mishap created an original story: Don José dies at the start of the program and Carmen dies at the end. This is far more balanced this way!"

The rest of the season will tell if this twist to the story has any chance. Cappellini and Lanotte got Level 2 for their step sequences and Level 4 for all their other elements, except for the twizzles, for which they received no points. Their superior components kept them in second place.

Riazanova and Tkachenko performed an elegant and refined free dance to Nino Rota's Godfather. Dressed in black and white, they displayed their superb technique and classical lines, moves, edges, positions and expressions.

"This was harder than at Skate Canada," Tkachenko said. "Maybe that's because we had to wait for so long between practice this morning and the actual competition tonight. But, we skated well."

Hubbell and Donohue were the first to skate in the last group. They skated the three parts of their free dance with intensity and energy throughout and projected their charisma to an audience which was already conquered to their cause. They earned Level 4 for all their elements except for their step sequence and their curve lift, which got Level 3s.

"It felt pretty comfortable, although this is quite a difficult program," Donohue said while leaving the ice.

Their first part was so tense.

"Yeah! And then the second part is just like: 'Breathe!' And then in the third part, it's, 'I'll kill you.' I think we will need a good chunk of time now to make the whole program smoother," he said laughing.

At the end of the group, after all the other teams had skated, it was revealed that Hubbell and Donohue posted the second-best total for the free dance -- thanks to superlative technical elements. This result certainly will encourage them, as technical elements were considered the area they most needed to improve.

Péchalat and Bourzat, and Cappellini and Lanotte both qualified for the Grand Prix Final.