Ice Network

Paul, Islam pull ahead in Nebelhorn short dance

Hubbell, Donohue place second with new routine; Russians take third
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Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam tallied 59.06 points to win the short dance. -Getty Images

Canadians Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, who train at the Detroit Skating Club in a group headed by Pasquale Camerlengo and his wife Anjelika Krylova, edged out training partners Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue by 2.53 points to lead Thursday after the short dance event at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy.

Performing a peppy program to music from George Gershwin's Crazy for You, the Canadians gave the audience the impression that ice dance is carefree and fun. Their serene performance quality and easy flow were their strongest attributes. They earned Level 4's for their twizzle sequence and lift, while their two Finnstep sections rated Level 2 and 3, because they met just three of the six key points.

Paul and Islam take 59.06 points into the free dance.

"We are very pleased with our performance today," Paul said. "We made a few silly little mistakes, but we certainly are excited that we are in first place."

"We have [intensified] our training and want to avoid the mistakes we've made in the past," Islam said. "It was the first competition of the season; therefore, not everything was perfect yet."

Hubbell and Donohue, the 2012 U.S. bronze medalists who won 2011 Nebelhorn Trophy, earned 56.53 points for a jazzy routine including a Level 4 lift. Like the Canadians, their Finnstep sections rated Levels 2 and 3. Donohue stumbled a bit on Level 3 twizzles.

The team changed much of their choreography since their exhibition performance at Skate Detroit at the end of July, but are still skating to selections from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

"Our performance was OK today without any major mistakes," Hubbell said. "It was a learning experience for us. We are not disappointed about the placement at all because Alexandra and Paul are our training mates."

Russia's Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin, the 2011 world junior champions, also skated to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and are third with 55.90 points. They gained Level 3's for both of their Finnstep sequences. Their other elements rated Levels 2 and 3.

"I would not say that it was an excellent performance," Khaliavin said. "We often skated this program better during our practice sessions. It was just not our day today, but we hope that the free dance will be better. We want to make the audience and the judges happy."

Alisa Agafonova and Alper Ucar of Turkey, who train in Alexander Zhulin's school in Moscow, sit fourth with 51.51 points. Agafonova originally hails from Ukraine but gained Turkish citizenship several months ago. They lead the group of couples trying to earn one of the five available ice dance spots for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. 

In a bit of a surprise, Chinese couple Xintong Huang and Xun Zheng are fifth with 51.16 points. Huang and Zheng sometimes train at Detroit Skating Club but mainly work in China.

Yet another couple from Detroit, Australians Danielle O'Brien and Gregory Merriman, are sixth.

At least five countries will win an ice dance spot for Sochi in Oberstdorf. Based on short dance results, Turkey, China, Australia, Japan and Slovakia would qualify, with Spain as first substitute.

Reporter's notebook: None of the 22 couples competing at Nebelhorn achieved Level 4 for a Finnstep section ... Earlier this week, Galit Chait, coach of Israeli ice dancers Allison Reed and Vasili Rogov, said her team was not trying to qualify an Olympic spot because they had received word that Reed would not gain Israeli citizenship in time for Sochi.