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Refreshed Pechalat, Bourzat set pace in Paris

Polka proves challenging for leading teams; Hubbell, Donohue keep heads above water

A second gold in this year's Grand Prix Series is within reach for France's Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat.
A second gold in this year's Grand Prix Series is within reach for France's Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat. (AFP)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(11/16/2012) - Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat of France won the short dance at Trophée Eric Bompard with 68.48 points, more than two points ahead of Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (66.18 pts) and more than 10 points more than Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko of Russia (58.23).

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the U.S. stand in fourth place (56.54). All but the French beat their season's best tonight.

Péchalat and Bourzat were favorites to win the short dance, and they did. More important, though, was the way they did it.

"We do not feel so much pressure on our shoulders," a confident Bourzat had said prior to the event. "We have already passed the most difficult part. Cup of China was a great challenge for us, as we were skating against the world fourth-ranked team (Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje) and the European second-ranked team (Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev). We won, and then we had a great training week in Lyon. We did not go back and forth from one continent to the next, and we are in good shape to skate well here."

Péchalat and Bourzat seem to have found a new technical reliability since last season, especially Bourzat, whose twizzles always seemed to be a nightmare for the duo ... and for their fans.

"I really work on my twizzles every day," Bourzat explained. "It seems that I finally managed to find my own technique. Of course, you can never be sure, but when you see your success rate increase, that boosts your confidence."

Péchalat and Bourzat's French can-can was, of course, well received in Paris, as was their waltz to Yves Montand's delightful song "sous le ciel de Paris" ("under the skies of Paris").

"It was a real pleasure for us to hear the audience cheering and clapping for us," Bourzat said.

The European champions earned a Level 4 for the lift and their second polka sequence. Their other elements earned Level 3. Their components were by far the best of the field, as they scored an average 8.70, compared to 8.30 for Cappellini and Lanotte.

The Italians, who were sixth in Nice, skated a delicate program to polka and waltz tunes from the 1954 MGM musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Their levels improved one spot from their previous performances at Skate Canada and the Finlandia Trophy, as they earned Level 4 for their twizzles and lift, as well as for the first part of their Yankee Polka.

Riazanova and Tkachenko beat their season's best as well, with 58.23 points. They skated a very fluid dance to My Fair Lady, quite in sync but without that special bond that can turn a dance performance to a true couple dance.

"We definitely felt stronger and calmer than we were at Skate Canada," Tkachenko acknowledged afterward. "Still, we have a lot of work to do. It's my first season with polka, and it's really hard for me. We really have to work on it, and I think it will improve significantly throughout the season."

The duo gained only Level 2 for the two sequences, and Level 4 for their twizzles and lift.

The difficulty of polka was acknowledged by all three couples during the press conference.

"It's a dance you grow to love," Cappellini emphasized. "It's challenging as a dance, and it is challenging also to incorporate it into a short dance. You really have to take it with the right spirit."

U.S. bronze medalists Hubbell and Donohue, who captivated the French audience in Nice at last year's world championships (they finished 10th in their debut at the competition), delivered a beautiful short dance to selections from the Titanic soundtrack. They beat their season's best (56.54 points) and got Level 4 for their twizzles and lift, but the second part of their polka (the Yankee) got only a Level 1. (The first one gained a Level 3.)

"We love our program and we love to perform," Hubbell said, "But we are still missing the second half of our Yankee. We kept our focus, which was our goal. We are really trying to get the best elements, but we still have some way to go. There are so many points to gain from one level to the next!"

The duo nonetheless skated with a delicate yet ample touch to the ice, and incredible unison throughout. Their story was more than well received by the French audience.

"Titanic is a great story," Donohue emphasized. "During the waltz (actually derived from Franz Lehar's "Merry Widow"), Jack and Rose meet for dinner on the aristocratic deck, and then he invites her to the lower deck for a real party. It's quite suited to have 'upper-nose' for the waltz and real-life fun with the polka. I like the fun side! Danger! Risk! That's all my life!"

"Say rather that this is your life the way you imagine it will be," Hubbell added laughingly behind him.

"[Madison] is the best. She can do everything, and I just have to follow her," Donohue joked after they came out of the ice.

Ice dancing has become one of the preferred events of all skating competitions in France. The rink, which was only filled to 50 percent capacity Friday, should be far more packed by the end of the evening, Saturday night, for the ice dance final.