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In 20th year together, Pang, Tong bag another gold

Denney, Coughlin rally to leave Paris with bronze medal
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In their final season skating together, Qing Pang and Jian Tong secured their ticket to the Grand Prix Final. -Getty Images

Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China won the free skate and the gold at the 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard, just 2.97 points ahead of Canadian pair Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (193.86 for the Chinese and 190.89 for the Canadians).

John Coughlin and Caydee Denney rose from fourth to third after their flawless performance to Phantom of the Opera. The Americans garnered 120.49 points in the free and 184.01 overall, nearly four points ahead of Vera Bazarova and Igor Larionov. Denney and Coughlin also won the highest total of the field for their technical elements.

Pang and Tong took part in their 37th Grand Prix event, in Paris, and they managed to hold on to the first-place spot they secured in the short program. Their free skate was, however, far from perfect, especially in the first quarter of it. They popped and singled their opening double Axel-double Axel combination, and Tong nearly fell on their subsequent side-by-side triple toes. The rest of their program was perfect and emotional. The Chinese pair earned only the third-best technical points score for the segment (60 points, compared to 62.37 for the Canadians and 63.54 for the Americans), but their components were superlative, ranging from 8 to 8.50 points.

Pang and Tong have always been known for the unique way they blend their strength as a pair and their artistry as the true dancers they once were. There is little secret there: They got the warmest applause for their attitudes, if not for their solo jumps.

"We have to give tribute to Shae-Lynn Bourne, who choreographed our free program," Tong emphasized. "She always finds good moves. Also, we know the story we want to tell, so we can really skate from our hearts.

"Can you believe we have skated together for 20 years now?" Tong added with a smile. "This year is our last season: After that we will get married!" He and Pang, his wife-to-be, both had a broad smile.

"This is three years in a row that we find ourselves in second place after the short program, so I suppose this is our place," Duhamel said laughingly Friday night after their short program.

Duhamel and Radford had also promised that they would land their side-by-side triple Lutzes, and they did, although not quite in sync. Their program, set to Alice in Wonderland, was a pure -- and nearly flawless -- delight. Their major mistake was Radford's popping the double toe loop of their triple toe-double toe combination.

The team looked quite tense throughout, however.

"This was a very difficult skate for Meagan and I," Radford explained. "We knew what type of skating we needed to achieve our goals here (namely, qualify for the Grand Prix Final), so we put the same pressure on ourselves that we are going to get in our next competitions."

Denney and Coughlin landed all their elements with poise, including their impressive triple twist (Level 3), throw triple loop, side-by-side triple toe and double Axel-double toe-double toe combination. Denney landed her throw triple flip miles away, and their trademark lifts (all Level 4's) were successful both with the judges and the audience.

"The audience was just so great," Coughlin said. "When we were still in the warm-up area, we heard the 'boom boom boom' they were doing to greet the French team (Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès). We wondered what it sounded like when it was football, if they shouted that loud for figure skating!

"We were following a great performance by the French team, so we tried to use the crowd energy and use it to our own advantage," he added. "It will be the same for us at nationals, and, hopefully, at the Olympics."

"We are, of course, very positive about our technical scores, but we know that we need to go home and grow our component mark," Denney said. "Coming back in front of big audiences like at Skate America and here, we should trust on that and give our performance what I and John can give to it."

Bazarova and Larionov, who stood in third place before the free skate, doubled their opening side-by-side triple toes and missed their double Axel-double Axel combination as well. They ended fifth in the free skate and went down one spot overall.

James and Ciprès had not been successful in the short program, as James fell from their planned throw triple flip. They did not repeat that mistake in their free skate: They landed their triple twist (Level 2), side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe and throw triple flip. James, however, could not hold on to the landing of their throw triple Salchow.

Their final Group 3 lift, when Ciprès kneels down while still carrying James above his head, got "whoas" from their home audience, which greeted them with warm applause. They garnered 115.49 points for the free, the fourth-best total of the night, but they, nonetheless, remained in fifth place overall.

James and Ciprès skated their free skate to the Angels and Demons soundtrack (with Requiem for a Dream as a second part).

"We were actually looking for a theme, rather than just a piece of music," James said. "It's not too classical, yet it is strong and dynamic. It bears power and connection, love and hate: everything that makes up our pair, in fact!"

Who portrays the demons and who portrays the angels?

"He does, of course," James concluded with a broad smile, "And I portray the angels!"

The team's preparation was penalized by Ciprès' surgical operation to his right wrist, which took place about eight weeks ago, but the two of them were ecstatic about coming back to competition.

"Can you believe that he was not even allowed to do any lift before 10 days ago?" their coach, Claude Péri, said. "It's already great that they could compete at all."

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