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Zhang, Zhang open Cup of China with a bang

Kim, Domnina, Shabalin also win segments in Beijing

China's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang showed a lyrical style of skating in their CD, set to "Riding on the Wings of Songs" by Felix Mendelssohn.
China's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang showed a lyrical style of skating in their CD, set to "Riding on the Wings of Songs" by Felix Mendelssohn. (Getty Images)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(11/06/2008) - The first day of the Samsung Anycall Cup of China in Beijing saw several world-class skaters rise to the top of their respective disciplines. First, the home country's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang won the pairs short program. Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin then won the compulsory dance, and Korea's Yu-Na Kim ended the day with a victory in the ladies short program.

Pairs

Zhang and Zhang, the world silver medalists from Harbin, China, captured the pairs short on Thursday by nearly seven points. Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov of the Ukraine snuck into second place, 0.98 points ahead of 2006 world champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China.

Zhang and Zhang, who are not related, delivered a flawless performance to "Riding on the Wings of Songs" by Felix Mendelssohn, as they were trying to portray a more lyrical style than in past years. It worked quite well, and the Chinese couple was also rewarded with high program component scores. Overall, they earned 67.12 points, giving them a comfortable lead heading into the free skate on Friday.

"We are happy with our performance today. It was quite challenging, but the elements were well done," Dan Zhang said. "We don't care much about the score; we just want to skate our best. We are training to receive the highest levels for our elements, but sometimes in competition a little thing might be lacking. We just have to execute each element cleanly so that the technical specialists give us the highest level," she continued, referring to a question on receiving only a Level 2 for their spiral sequence.

Volosozhar and Morozov had a strong showing as well. Their side-by-side triple toe and their triple twist were excellent, but Volosozhar two-footed the huge throw triple loop.

"It was quite good, and we only had one small mistake on the throw," commented Morozov. "This was more of a psychological than technical error, as the throw works usually very well for us."

The Ukrainians are in second place at 60.34 points.

Pang and Tong were expected to compete for the top spot with their teammates, Zhang and Zhang, but Pang crashed on the throw triple loop. On the other hand, the couple landed its side-by-side triple toe. Last season, they two had their issues with side-by-side jumps.

"We are not so happy. We were tense, and we hope to skate better tomorrow," Pang said.

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig of the U.S. came in fourth, but they are about eight points away from the podium. The Americans skated better than they did last week at Skate Canada and got a season-best score, but Evora stepped out and under-rotated the side-by-side triple Salchow.

There are only seven pairs competing after Russia's Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh withdrew due to injury.

Ice Dancing

The ice dancing competition is a close, Russian vs. American battle with Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the U.S. sandwiched between two Russian teams -- Domnina and Shabalin, the European champions, and Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, the European bronze medalists -- following the compulsory dance. All three top couples gave strong performances of the Viennese Waltz.

Domnina and Shabalin edged out their new training mates in Aston, Pa., Belbin and Agosto, by just 1.19 points. The Viennese Waltz suits the tall Russians perfectly, with their beautiful lines, but Belbin and Agosto showed much improvement in this compulsory. The Russians scored 38.34 points and were pleased with their performance.

"We were very nervous, because this is our first competition, and because of my injury we didn't know until the last moment if we can come here or not. We skated well today, and hopefully we'll skate as well tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We are optimistic. We have good programs, and we feel that we are going into the right direction," Shabalin said, referring to his knee injury that kept the couple out of the 2008 World Championships.

Belbin and Agosto sit in second place with 37.15 points. They had to overcome a scare in the four-minute warm-up period as Agosto and Israeli ice dancer Roman Zaretski bumped into each other and fell.

"It wasn't like we injured ourselves; it was just kind of a little awkward slide there for a couple of seconds. You know, in a way, it's maybe good. It kind of snaps you out of thinking too much about what you are doing. It kind of snaps you out, and you just have to live in the moment. I felt like we recovered fine, and our warm-up was very comfortable, and we felt good about what we did and then our compulsory felt very good," Agosto said.

"I feel like we had more attack today [than earlier this season]. At Skate America, we were confident, but we sort of skated at a very calm level. Today, we tried to be a little more aggressive, and I feel like it's the right step. So hopefully we can continue to improve the quality and the deep edges, but I think this is much improved from our previous seasons," Belbin added.

Khokhlova and Novitski are in third with 35.68 points, but they too gave a strong performance of the Waltz.

"It's difficult for me to judge our performance, as this is our first competition and we don't see ourselves [skating]. We'll have to look [at the video]. I think it was good for the first competition, because we had a long break since the past world championships, practically half a year. The Waltz is a good dance for us, and we never had any problems with it," Novitski explained.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy finished fourth, 2.07 points ahead of the Israeli brother-and sister team, Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski.

Ladies

Kim stumbled, but she still won the ladies short program ahead of 2007 world champion Miki Ando of Japan. Kim two-footed and under-rotated her triple Lutz, so it was downgraded and counted as only a bad double jump. However, the other elements were strong, including her high triple flip-triple toe loop combination.

Kim was partly lucky, because Ando also made a mistake. After hitting a triple Lutz-triple loop combination, which she got credit for this time, unlike at Skate America, the 20-year-old Japanese skater landed forward and stepped out of her triple flip, causing the jump to be downgraded.

Kim racked up 63.64 points, well below her season-best from Skate America, while Ando scored 59.30, improving her short program score by 1.50 points since her first 2008 Grand Prix event.

"I was more nervous than at Skate America, and I made an error on my triple Lutz," Kim admitted. "I'm still in first place, and I want to give my best in the free skating."

Ando had mixed feelings: "My score was higher than at Skate America, and I'm happy about this, but I'm not so happy with my performance. I'm a little disappointed," she said. "I changed my steps into the triple flip, because I got some minus [Grades of Execution] for it at Skate America, but I knew that there was not enough time for practicing it. So I missed it today."

Laura Lepistö of Finland placed third with 58.60 points. She hit a nice triple toe-triple toe combination and a triple loop.

"My performance was pretty good today," the Finnish champion said. "A couple of levels could have been higher, but the jumps were good. Otherwise, I felt comfortable on the ice."

Ashley Wagner of the U.S. finished fourth, despite falling on her triple Lutz, but she collected points with high levels on her spins and footwork.

Katrina Hacker of the U.S. followed in fifth place. She opted for easier jumps -- a triple toe-double toe combination and a triple loop -- and gave a clean performance to "On Golden Pond," portraying a girl that laces up her skates on a frozen pond in winter time and just enjoys skating.

Reigning European silver medalist Sarah Meier from Switzerland botched a combination after stepping out of her triple Lutz and also fell on a cheated triple loop. She finished in a disappointing seventh place.