Chock, Zuerlein step out in front in Cleveland

Junior Grand Prix Final champs take lead with their Paso Doble



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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/19/2009) - For the second time on Monday at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, skating fans were treated to the pulsing beat of the Paso Doble -- "double step" in Spanish -- a compulsory dance based on the entrance music of the toreador, or bullfighter.

Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, who won the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, took the lead with 32.90 points, just 0.92 ahead of training mates Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. Both teams head the field of 14 junior ice dance couples.

"It felt a little shaky on the second side of the second pattern," Zuerlein said. "Other than that, it went well."

Chock felt competing at the Final, held in Goyang City, Korea, gave them a big boost.

"It was an amazing experience just going to Korea and being part of it all," she said. "Winning was just the cherry on the top."

"Since the senior and junior events were combined this year, we got the chance to see all of the skaters we really look up to," Zuerlein added. "The fans there were amazing; every event was pretty much packed."

The Shibutanis' speedy, precise Paso captured second with 31.98 points.

"We haven't really competed this dance a lot, but I think we skated it with a lot of confidence," Alex Shibutani said.

Both Chock and Zuerlein and the Shibutani siblings train in Canton, Mich., under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva. The Shibutanis also competed in Korea, placing fourth.

Colorado Springs-based Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue, who have skated together less than eight months, took third with 29.50 points despite a slight misstep.

"At the start, I kind of stumbled and lost my footing," Donohue said.

"It was a shaky beginning to the Paso. I don't think we were expecting that, but we made a good recovery," Gilles said.

Gilles, who missed the JGP Final with an injury to an adductor tendon, is grateful just to be in Cleveland this week.

"I'm still not 100%, but it's good enough to push through," she said.