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Kawaguchi, Smirnov hang on for gold

Canadians win free skate, step up to silver

Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov held on for their first Grand Prix victory.
Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov held on for their first Grand Prix victory. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(11/01/2008) - Ultra-tiny Yuko Kawaguchi survived a high-speed collision with American Keauna McLaughlin in the warm-up and, with partner Alexander Smirnov, fended off a strong challenge from the Canadians to win her first Grand Prix gold.

Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison, with first-place scores for their long program, almost made up the deficit that separated them from the top spot after the first round but, ultimately, the home-country pair fell 0.43 points short of the Russians' 176.97 score.

A week after winning silver at Skate America, U.S. champions McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker settled for bronze (161.51) at the HomeSense Skate Canada International after an error-plagued performance.

Kawaguchi and Smirnov, fourth at the 2008 World Championships behind Dubé and Davison, skated a complicated routine to the intensely dramatic "I Pagliaccci." Their only major mistake came on the opening element when he doubled the first triple toe loop in their planned triple toe-triple toe jump sequence.

"We had so many mistakes that we know. Maybe they were not [visible] from the outside. We could have more speed. Each element does not have a high quality, only medium," said Kawaguchi, whose facial expression belied the fact they had just won the event.

Kawaguchi said she was not hurt in the crash with McLaughlin but was just a little nervous afterward. She had to calm herself down before returning to the ice to compete.

McLaughlin said their sub-par performance of the Broadway classic West Side Story was not the result of the mishap, although her back was a bit sore, perhaps as a result of the Russian's knee striking her.

"What happened in our program was purely our fault, not anyone else's. We were not focussed and rushed some of the elements," she admitted.

Brubaker noted that competing in two competitions in as many weeks required more focus than they realized. It was the first time they had to deal with that scenario and will learn from it, he said.

The Americans scored zero points for their pair combination spin since he put his foot down in the middle, almost nothing for their planned triple Salchows, which she popped into a single, and lost more points when he doubled the planned triple toe loop.

"Those elements kind of killed us, but that's the name of the game," Brubaker said.

The fact that Dubé came down on Davison's shoulder like a sack of potatoes on her descent from the recently added triple twist lift was in stark contrast to the dramatically sophisticated performance that unfolded after that flawed opening move.

Carmen, which has been on the top-10 hits list for figure skating programs for generations, is the music Dubé and Davison chose for their finale. However, they selected lesser known sections of Bizet's operatic composition to set themselves apart from previous interpretations.

"We wanted something classic, something well known, but we didn't pick the biggest classic Carmen moments. There's a few [of the most familiar sections] that you can notice during the program. At the end, you begin to realize that's what it is," Davison explained.

Their more severe and intense music choice -- a departure from the love stories they have interpreted in the past -- was well received by the fans in Ottawa, who rewarded them with a standing ovation.

"We attacked that long really well. We stayed in the character of the program better than we thought we would almost. To be honest, that was a better long than we were expecting. There were no huge technical errors," Davison said.

"Learning from it is the most important part, and it's all on the road to the Olympics, anyways," he added.

Dubé and Davison have not attempted the triple Lutz twist since their junior days four years ago but decided they needed to resurrect the risky lift to stay with the top group heading into the 2010 Olympics. Their plan is to get the potentially high-scoring triple under control this year so that they can reap the dividends in the all-important Olympic season.

The second U.S. pair, Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent, were fourth after the short program but were overtaken by a second Canadian pair -- Mylène Brodeur and John Mattatall -- in the final. The Americans settled for fifth place overall.

Their teammates, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, were seventh among eight couples.

Dancers get the joint hoppin'

"Happy Feet" made for happy times for Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. on Saturday. With their quick-stepping and high-scoring 1920s-style Charleston, they built a nearly insurmountable lead over their nearest competitors heading into Sunday's finale.

Davis and White, both 21 and sixth in the world last season, scored 56.36 in the second segment of the ice dance competition for a total of 90.65 points.

French duo Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who train in Moscow under the guidance of former world champion Alexander Zhulin, had a rough go of it on Saturday and finished sixth in the segment, but they managed to hang on to second place with 81.27 points.

Americans Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, who finished 12th at the world championships last March, are third with 80.35. They were fourth behind Russians Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov in the original dance and will have to deliver a strong free dance to finish on the podium.

Navarro and Bommentre are in a virtual three-way tie for the bronze-medal position with Gorshokova and Butikov (80.32) and the young Canadians Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (80.24).

For the original dance this season, the competitors can choose music from the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. Their programs can include various dances popular in that era, including Blues, Swing, Lindy Hop and Foxtrot.

Davis and White showed their superior technique right from their opening step sequence. They were a blur on their fast-spinning twizzles. Their only error came in the final footwork line when he had a small stumble mid-way through.

"We're pretty happy with it. I think we're looking to improve on it throughout the year, but it's a good start for now. We know what to do when we go home," Davis said.

"We enjoyed it. You know, when you put a smile on your face, you're a little happier out there too," White added.

Asked about their impressive twizzles, White said, "We do work on the twizzles a lot. We've been drilling them. We just wanted to get them comfortable so that you don't have to think about them too much in competition, and we're getting to that point."

Pechalat and Bourzat, sixth at the Grand Prix Final and seventh in the world last season, got off track on their twizzles and bumped into each other. Later, she fell flat on her stomach after catching an edge in their midline step sequence. Nonetheless, it is obvious their Lindy Hop and Blues program to the familiar tune "It Don't Mean a Thing" has significant potential, and the couple is pleased with the "huge progress" they have made under Zhulin's direction.

"I don't know what happened. It feels like a bad dream," Pechalat said. "I missed one step in the midline, and after that, I was not on my feet."

Performing a Swing and Foxtrot combo, Navarro and Bommentre, the 2008 U.S. bronze medalists, were also tripped up by their twizzle turns. Otherwise, they skated strongly despite the distraction caused by her hair decoration flying onto the ice during their opening rotational lift.

"I'm very proud of our OD, but yes, that was a distraction," Navarro said.

The eight couples will close out the show when they perform their free dances Sunday afternoon.