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U.S. finishes off big weekend at Cup of China

Americans take home four medals from Day 3

Yu-Na Kim of South Korea held off the young American, Caroline Zhang, and vaulted to the top of the podium with her free skate on Saturday.
Yu-Na Kim of South Korea held off the young American, Caroline Zhang, and vaulted to the top of the podium with her free skate on Saturday. (Getty Images)

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By Tatjana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(11/10/2007) - The Cup of China in Harbin wrapped up with a successful medal haul for the U.S. team. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto came from behind and overtook Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin in the free dance to take the title. Johnny Weir edged Evan Lysacek for the gold as the U.S. men finished one-two, and Caroline Zhang captured the ladies silver medal.

Ice Dancing

Belbin and Agosto proved that you should never give up, even in ice dancing. The reigning world bronze medalists delivered a smooth and technically demanding performance to a selection of music by Frederic Chopin. Their footwork and lifts looked effortless, but they weren't easy. The couple was awarded a level four for all of their eight elements in the free dance and marked a new seasonal best at 98.41 points for their performance. They moved up to first at 195.11 points and are already qualified for the ISU Grand Prix Final this December.

"All through the competition we felt that we were skating well and performed the best that we could, and we're definitely at an early point of the season. So hopefully by the end of the season, we'll have some even stronger numbers," Agosto said.

"Whatever result came through, most importantly we were very pleased with the progress that our free dance has made in just one week at home between our first Grand Prix, Skate America, and now this one. I think that this free dance has a lot of potential. Hopefully, now we can raise the original dance and compulsory dances to match it. But hopefully we'll have many more performances like this," Belbin commented.

Domnina and Shabalin, on the other hand, had to experience how hard the judging system can punish you for a mistake. When Shabalin accidentally lifted his partner at the end of their spin, he knew right away that they were in trouble. And indeed, they got dinged three times for the error: first, the involuntary lift was called a stationary lift by the technical panel, and got just a level one; second, their last lift, a reverse rotational that was actually a level four, didn't count, because it was the fifth lift and only four are allowed; third, the Russians got a deduction for an extra element on top of that. But they didn't complain.

"We made a big mistake", Domnina acknowledged. "We are upset about our performance and the mistake, but the judges just gave the scores they had to give."

They also weren't as strong in their footwork and got just a level two for both step sequences. The team was only ranked third in the free dance.

Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy improved over their performance from Skate America and claimed their second bronze medal of the 2007-08 Grand Prix Series.

Men

The men's event turned out to be a battle between Weir and Lysacek. Skating to a dramatic piece of music entitled "Love is War" by Yoav Gordon, Weir, who was second after the short program behind his teammate, gave his best performance in a long time. In fact, he beat his personal best, which dated back to the NHK Trophy in December 2004. The 23-year-old nailed eight triple jumps, including two beautiful triple Axels, and moved up to first at 231.78 points.

His mother was moved to tears.

"I am glad that I was able to make her proud", Weir said. "I was very excited with my performance today. It is the first time in a long time that I felt really comfortable on the ice, and I think it's due to a new training regimen and just harder work in general, and I am so happy it's paying off with good performances. I am just so happy to be back on top", he explained.

Lysacek missed his opening quad and took a while to recover. His next jump, a triple Axel, was shaky. He cheated the landing, and his scores suffered. But the two-time world bronze medalist rallied back to land seven triples, including two triple-triple combinations. He was second with 229.36 points.

"Today, obviously, was not my best. It's hard to start off with a fall right away. But if there is one thing that I am proud of, it's the fact that I tried the quad", the current U.S. champion commented.

Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland struggled during his "Poeta" Flamenco program. He crashed on both quad toes (the first one was even downgraded), and he two-footed a loop and then went down again towards the end of the routine on a triple flip. Three clean triples and a double Axel remained. The two-time world champion looked devastated in the kiss and cry zone while waiting for his marks.

"I am just very sad about my performance. I couldn't feel my body today. It was not my day", he said in the press conference.

Sergei Davydov of Belarus was fourth, although he also had some issues. Some jumps were flawed and his last triple-double toe combo didn't count because it was his fourth combination/sequence, and only three are allowed.

Russia's Alexander Uspenski hit a quad toe loop, but it was not clean. He stumbled on some other jumps but didn't fall. The only other skater to land a quad was Chengjiang Li of China, who pulled off a nice quad toe-double toe combo, but that was the only highlight of his program. He placed 11th out of 12 skaters.

Ladies

The ladies event, unfortunately, was a splatfest. When the dust settled, the last woman standing was Yu-Na Kim of Korea. The reigning world bronze medalist rallied back from a faulty short program and produced six triple jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe and a double Axel-triple toe combo, in her routine set to "Miss Saigon". She won with a lead of 24.34 points over Caroline Zhang.

The world junior champion, too, had a triple flip-triple toe, but she ran out of gas in the second half of her program, falling on a Lutz and a flip.

"I was pleased with the first half of my performance, the second half was not as good. I could have done better", she told the journalists, speaking Mandarin. Still, with her bronze-medal performance from Skate America, Zhang has a good chance to make it to the Grand Prix Final with 24 points.

Carolina Kostner of Italy needs to improve on what she did in China if she wants to qualify for the Final in her home country. She came in third, but she was lucky that everybody else struggled as well. The European champion, who led after the short program, landed two clean triples -- a loop and a Salchow -- and she went down twice. Two falls was actually the minimum for seven out of the 12 ladies.

Current U.S. bronze medallist Alissa Czisny had a tough skate, falling four times. She finished ninth. Bebe Liang missed three jumps and finished sixth. Pairs

Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China won the pairs event, but there was not much competition. They skated better than at Skate America, but still not at their best. Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker could have come close to the Pang and Tong, the 2006 world champions, but the Americans struggled with their nerves and made some errors in both the short and free programs. Still, second place was a nice debut for them, and they have a chance to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in their first senior year.

Belbin and Agosto are already qualified with the maximum of 30 points. Lysacek should be through as well with two second-place finishes (26 points). Weir wants to earn his ticket to Turin in December at the Cup of Russia in two weeks.