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Team Unique grabs gold, Haydenettes bag bronze

Finnish squad overcomes Canada's NEXXICE for title; Americans finish third for fourth year in a row

Team Unique posted 208.77 total points, besting Canada's NEXXICE by a 0.52-point margin.
Team Unique posted 208.77 total points, besting Canada's NEXXICE by a 0.52-point margin. (Jay Adeff)

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By Renee Felton, special to icenetwork.com
(04/06/2013) - It was as close to a photo finish as you can get in figure skating Saturday night, as Team Unique (Finland 1) narrowly edged NEXXICE (Canada 1) for the title at the 2013 World Synchronized Skating Championships.

Just 0.52 points separated gold from silver, with Team Unique totaling 208.77 points after a superb free skate. The hometown Haydenettes (USA 1) captured their fourth straight world bronze medal.

In what could certainly be considered an upset, Team Unique won its first ever world title. The victory in Boston came on the heels of the team earning its first Finnish title. In fourth after the short program, Team Unique's free skate, set to music from The Help, was the best of the event by four points and received 139.49.

Program highlights included six Level 4 elements, as the team's technical mark of 65.74 points was the highest of the competition.

"Today was all about fighting," team captain Minttu Palsola said. "We fought our way to the gold medal. In the short program, we had a little bit of difficulty. But we knew that if we did a clean skate, we could win, and we did."

In fact, coach Mirjami Penttinen noted how proud she was that her team rebounded from a less-than-outstanding short program to concentrate on the task at hand Saturday night.

"This is the first time in history that we could raise up from the moment we didn't do a really good short," she explained. "When we came here, we thought our short program was so good that we are going to take the gold with the short. It was a big disappointment to be fourth, but for the first time, we didn't think about it more than 10 minutes."

Of winning the world title, Palsola said, "It's a dream come true. We have worked so hard to get to this point and now we are here. We have now achieved our goals, and it feels great."

NEXXICE returns to its home in Ontario with its second straight world silver medal. The perennial Canadian champions turned in a classically beautiful program to "Die Fledermaus" that helped them earn 135.41 points for the segment.

"The performance went really well," co-captain Amy Cebulak said. "We loved every moment out there. The fans, everything about it, were so amazing that I think we took advantage of every opportunity."

The Canadian team members, first after the short program, had a while to wait before learning their final fate. Their overall score of 208.25 points put them in distant first place with three teams left to skate. Following their performance, Cebulak quipped, "This is gonna be a long wait!"

Their wait included watching their neighbors to the south, the Haydenettes, perform before a frantic U.S. crowd.

"This performance was about love. We got on the ice and we could feel everyone in the stands pulling for us," team member Lindsay Grajek said. "The crowd was unbelievable. I looked up in the stands and, not only were the fans incredibly loud, there were also smiles on every person's face.

"After the short, we were ready to fight. To get a medal on top of that is a huge cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae, covered in chocolate, covered in sprinkles, covered in marshmallow topping."

The Haydenettes totaled 202.53 points, including 130.66 points for their Latin-infused free skate.

"It was their dream to be here and to skate two clean programs," an emotional coach Saga Krantz said. "It's a dream come true. It's an unbelievable feeling to have everything come together."

In a sport that definitely has its share of emotion, Miami University head coach Carla DeGirolamo is one who usually manages to keep her head about her -- until Saturday, when her team performed its 1920s-themed free skate.

"It was an electric performance," DeGirolamo said. "They made me cry, which doesn't happen very often. They kept building their energy, and you could see them growing with the energy of the crowd from element to element. It's a really great moment for me as a coach to see that happen."

In 10th after the short program, Miami University, competing at its first worlds held in the United States, moved up to eighth after earning 115.63 points for its free skate. The team totaled 172.01 for the event.

For senior co-captain Taylor Walker, the USA chants and red, white and blue littering the stands caused the program to almost become a blur at times.

"There were moments where I was like, 'I don't even know what's going on,'" she said. "I had to keep refocusing myself to not get caught up in the energy of it all. We were building in our excitement throughout."

Miami began the season with the goal of earning a berth to the world championships, an accomplishment that became even more special for the squad's graduating class, which was competing for the last time.

"It was a perfect ending," Ingrid Benson said. "To be able to do this in front of a home crowd, and at the world championships, it is such a big stage. For our last performance, it is the perfect ending."

Team Paradise (Russia 1) was in third after the short program and went on to finish fifth, while the 2012 world champs, Team Surprise (Sweden 1), placed seventh.