Verner, Ando win Cup of Russia

By Jim Heintz

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 20 2010 12:50 p.m. MST

MOSCOW — Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic took advantage of mistakes by the top two leaders and won the Cup of Russia Grand Prix figure skating competition Saturday.

Patrick Chan of Canada and American Jeremy Abbott were ahead of Verner heading into Saturday's free skate. But both fell repeatedly and neither managed a quadruple jump.

Miki Ando of Japan gritted her way through serious back pain to win the women's gold, soaring past four challengers who were ahead of her after the short program. They included her countrywoman Akiko Suzuki, who took silver, and American Ashley Wagner, who finished third.

In pairs, Russia's Yuko Kavagut and Alexander Smirnov easily won the gold with tightly synchronized spins and long throws. Japan's Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran took silver and Americans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig were third.

Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev won the ice dancing, followed by Nora Hoffman and Maxim Zavozin of Hungary and Russia's Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov.

Verner didn't even try a quad but he stayed on his feet, although he stepped out of two axels. His crowd-pleasing program to Michael Jackson music was marked by a soaring open triple lutz and a fast triple-double-double cascade late in the program.

It was Verner's first Grand Prix and combined with the bronze he won at the Cup of China, it will take him to the Grand Prix Final in Beijing in December.

"I'm surprised ... I wasn't expecting to go there," said Verner, who switched coaches and moved to Canada for training this summer.

Those disruptions had dissuaded him from attempting quads this season, but "now I'm ready to put it in the program" for the Grand Prix Final, he said.

Chan, who got gold at Skate Canada, also gets a berth in the final. But the Moscow free skate, in which he fell on his quad attempt and on two tries for triples, appeared to leave him perplexed. His short program on Friday was solid, including a confident quad.

In the warmup room, "I did what I did off the ice, and it felt good. Sometimes jumps just don't come."

Abbott, who fell twice, said part of the problem was that his training has been sporadic because to boot problems. Although disappointed that he may have missed his chance to reach the final, he tried his best to brush off the performance.

"The ice is slippery, sometimes we fall," he said.

Ando pulled some back muscles in a practice collision with another skater this week and on Saturday her bandages showed through the gauze back of her black outfit. But her free program was elegant and clean, opeing with a precise triple lutz-double loop.

"My back is really hurting ... I just tried, for each element, to do it," she said. "My skating wasn't great but I didn't make any big mistakes."

Suzuki was first after the short program and opened strongly with a delicately landed triple lutz. But she then singled a triple lutz that was to open a triple-double-double cascade and singled a loop in her attempt to add the missed jumps later.

"There are a lot of things I still have to work on" before going to the Grand Prix Final, she admitted.

Wagner, despite a late fall that undermined her earlier vivid jumps, said her performance exceeded her own expectations.

"I came to Russia with the plan of both programs being learning experience," she said. "Everything was one-footed for me today — and that was huge."

Kavaguti and Smirnov laid off practice for four months this year for health reasons, but the hiatus was hard to guess from their free skate to Debussy's "Claire de Lune," which included long throws and close synchronization. It was their only Grand Prix appearance this season so the gold medal won't push them toward the final.

But there was another perk for them in the win — Saturday was Kavaguti's 29th birthday.

"My goal was to make a present for myself ... and I think we did well," Kavaguti said.

The bronze for Evora and Ladwig is their first Grand Prix medal.

"Getting the bronze medal here is a bonus, but what were focusing on was raising our scores from Cup of China" where they placed fifth, Evora said. "It is definitely another dream come true."

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