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Russian ice dancers look ready to rumble

Wear First Nations gifted blankets to "keep away bad things"

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin draped in blankets that were gifts from Canada's First Nations Aboriginal peoples.
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin draped in blankets that were gifts from Canada's First Nations Aboriginal peoples. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/20/2010) - Once again, Natalia Linichuk has proved she's nobody's fool.

The first inning of the ice dance showdown between Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin and the North American trio of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, is in the books, with the Russians taking a narrow lead after a near-flawless Tango Romantica.

Waiting for scores in the kiss and cry, Linichuk and her world champions sported heavy red, white and black blankets as if they were sitting in the ballpark on a chilly evening.

The blankets are gifts from Canada's First Nations Aboriginal peoples, representatives of whom met with the ice dancers early this week.

Domnina and Shabalin were criticized during the European Championships last month for performing an Aboriginal original dance that leaders of Australia's Aboriginal community called poorly researched.

"We had the meeting, and they [First Nations peoples] were so friendly and so kind to us, and they presented us with these blankets," Shabalin said. "They said [the blankets] should cover our hearts and keep us from any bad things. So we were very pleased with this, and we presented them our traditional [Russian] gifts."

The meeting was a good way to mend fences and build understanding, and it may work out in more ways than one: media outlets report today that Eirik Boie Myrhaug, a shaman in Norway, has suggested some in British Columbia's Aboriginal community have cursed his country's Olympic athletes, because of Aboriginal opposition to Norwegian-owned fish farming operations in B.C.

Native leaders deny the charge, but using blankets as talismans can't hurt.

"We hope we will become friends, so that is why we are wearing [the blankets] today," Shabalin said. "We want to show we are open to the friendship of everyone. We have a lot of respect for this culture, that is why we chose [the dance], it is very unique. We didn't have any disrespect.

"We did research, and maybe there was a little misunderstanding, because you cannot do footwork 100 percent authentic, because we have required elements, we have restrictions. We told them we have an idea to do maybe an exhibition dance with more authentic costumes and movement."

While many teams wear their costumes during practice to help simulate competition, the Russians have sported plain black outfits during their OD run-throughs here.

Asked whether the couple has changed the controversial costume and make-up they used for the OD at Europeans, Shabalin replied, "You will have to wait one day to see."

Blankets aside, the Russians were on top of their game in the compulsory, taking a 1.02-point lead over Virtue and Moir with the two American teams close behind.

Shabalin said they've made some changes since Europeans, where they lost both the OD and free dance to Italians Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali.

"We worked to correct the mistakes we made, mostly to our free dance," he said.

Both added they were "optimistic" about the next two segments of the event.

"Everyone is nervous here, maybe you tell me who is not nervous," Domnina said. "It is all about controlling your emotions. There is a different type of nervousness here [at the Olympics]. You either manage it or you don't."