In American figure-skating arenas today, audiences aren't used to hearing perfect scores announced unless Michelle Kwan is in the building.

That changed Thursday at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships when Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada won the pairs title. Though they skated a slightly less difficult program than second-place finishers Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China, the Canadians' free skate was something special. Their artistry and exquisite presentation mesmerized the Delta Center crowd and won the marks of eight of the nine judges, one of whom awarded the pair a perfect score.

The pair celebrated with a long embrace at center ice, even before their scores were announced. They weren't sure they had won, but Pelletier said they relished the performance.

"Like butter in a pan," Pelletier joked. "Like a cold beer after 18 holes of golf."

"Our long program felt really amazing," he said, more seriously. "Two weeks ago, we did nationals and didn't feel so good. Skating to win is not fun.

Skating because you enjoy it is."

Unapologetic about his program's technical elements, Pelletier said he and Sale concentrate on presenting a complete pairs program.

"Anything I can relate to Jamie, whether in a move or a lift, I'd rather do that than the side-by-side jumps," he said.

Shen and Zhao had the jumps, including a double Axel-triple toe loop combination and two huge throw jumps. But judges gave the artistic nod to the Canadian team, a signal that did not escape the Chinese.

"We're not trying to beat other teams," Zhao said, through a translator. "The other skaters from other countries are top athletes. What we're trying to do now is win the hearts of judges."

Two-time American champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman finished third with a solid, dramatic free skate. After a bobble on Zimmerman's opening triple toe loop, the pair went on to complete two throw triple jumps.

"We're trying to have another approach to the way we settle into a competition," Zimmerman said. "Not too focused but a little more relaxed. We let it out as much as we could in this program."

Defending Four Continents ladies champion Angela Nikodinov was not so fortunate. Coming off an inspired skate at nationals in Boston last month, a hesitant performance in Thursday's short program landed her in seventh place.

"I think I just overthought it," Nikodinov said. "I was a little more cautious on the flip instead of just attacking it. I kind of held back a bit."

Tatiana Malinina, champion of the inaugural Four Continents Championship in 1999, leads the field going into Saturday's free skate — despite earning marks as low as 4.9.

"It was not so clean," Malinina said of her performance. "I was terribly nervous going into that competition because I didn't compete so much this season."

The biggest surprise of the evening came from the Japanese contingent. National champion Fumie Suguri and silver medalist Shizuka Arakawa ended the evening in second and third place, respectively. Both skated lyrical, expressive programs with minor errors; both edged out American up-and-comer Jennifer Kirk, who placed fourth. A third Japanese skater, Yoshie Onda, finished fifth.

There were no surprises in the ice dance competition — the original dance produced exactly the same results as the first for all 15 teams. Canadians Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz held on to first place with a new version of their original dance, which included footwork sequences and lifts for more "flow."

"We added more flow to where we felt we were missing the flow," Bourne said. "This was a big thing for us to be able to do it again before Worlds."

Three-time American dance champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tschernyshev placed second, with a charismatic, playful program skated to Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon." Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon finished third.

The ice dance competition will conclude today.