Saturday, March 29, 2003

Canadians win dance gold

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz sure know how to call it a career. Skating in what they said is their last competition, the Canadians finally won the gold medal they've chased for seven years. And this was no token going-away gift. They outskated 2002 world champs Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh, and even the judges had to acknowledge it.

"I'm not too much prepared for what happened tonight," Kraatz said. "Because after so many years of trying, trying, trying, and not reaching that goal, it hasn't sunk in yet."

Bourne and Kraatz were still grinning when they were introduced for the medals ceremony, and she had to hold back tears as their anthem played at the World Figure Skating Championships. The Russians weren't nearly as happy, blowing past the media after they saw the standings, a 5-4 split.

"I think it was a political decision," Averbukh said. "I think the gold medal was a reward for the Canadian couple for a long career."

But Bourne disagreed.

"I think it was the skating," she said. "The skating spoke for itself."

Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski of Bulgaria won the bronze medal, that country's first-ever medal at a world championships.

Bourne and Kraatz were the poster children for judging improprieties long before the Salt Lake City pairs scandal. They felt they were robbed of medals and titles many times - and weren't shy about saying it.

But there was no question about this victory. Skating to "Adagio of 21st Century," Bourne and Kraatz's program was packed with drama and emotion. They were constantly moving, their bodies an integral part of the choreography of their program. No beat of the music went unacknowledged, no notes were missed.

Their straightline footwork was spectacular. Not only did they have tremendous speed and difficult turns, but they were in perfect unison, going from one end of the rink to the other in a mirror image.

Every second of their program was difficult. Instead of doing simple crossovers like other couples, they did more difficult connecting steps into all of their lifts and spins. And they did several variations of the hydroplane, their signature move.

As they finished, Kraatz lay flat on the ice while Bourne blew kisses to the crowd. When he finally got to his feet, Bourne hugged her partner of 13 years and said, "Thank you."

"It was wonderful," she said. "It felt great just to skate the way we did. I was so excited with how we performed and to get those marks to win convincingly.

"We've been together for so long and tried very hard and never really gave up," she added. "And we got the gold."

Lobacheva and Averbukh had great speed and flair, but their program was filled with cheap tricks. Skating to a rock-and-roll medley, the program had more flash than substance.

It may have looked neat when they did a cartwheel lift or he leapfrogged her, but that's elementary stuff for world-class ice dancers.

One judge rewarded them with a 6.0 for presentation, but there was no way to tell if it counted or not. Even if it did, it wasn't good enough.

The Americans were good enough to put two couples in the top 10 for the first time since 1990. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto were seventh, while five-time U.S. champs Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev were eighth.

Skating to an Elvis Presley medley, Belbin and Agosto had the house rocking with a routine that would have made the King proud. Dressed in a white jumpsuit with gaudy gold trim a la Las Vegas Elvis, he was swiveling his hips and knocking his knees as Belbin shimmied at his side.

"How else can you skate Elvis?" Agosto said. "It was like the audience was exhausted after he performed."

It was hard to tell who was having more fun, Belbin and Agosto or the crowd that clapped along as they rocked and rolled around the ice. Agosto was so into the character, he might have found his future calling - as an Elvis impersonator.

"It's just such an incredible program, and we've been disappointed that we haven't been able to do it the best. Now we have," Agosto said. "Now we can say we did it."

Lang and Tchernyshev have had a tough year, missing the entire Grand Prix season because of a cyst on her Achilles tendon. The injury was misdiagnosed, costing them precious time on the ice.

Nationals was their first competition, and they've made great strides since then. Skating to The Scorpions' "Still Loving You," they looked like extras from an '80s rock video, right down to his big, over-processed hair.

They had some original moves, including an impressive hydroplane that drew oohs and aahs from the audience. Crouching low on his right leg and leaning into the ice, he supported her entire body on his left leg that was not only extended, but lifted a few inches.

It's a difficult enough move for a skater to do solo, let alone taking someone else along for the ride.

"We're just happy with the way the crowd responded to our performance," Tchernyshev said. "That was the highlight of the week."

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