VANCOUVER, British Columbia Wednesday's pairs competition here at the World Figure Skating Championships came down to a contest between terrific performances and positively mesmerizing ones.
To the delight of the Canadian fans, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier delivered sweet perfection to win their first world title, defeating the world champions from the past two years.
With unmatched elegance, Sale and Pelletier also completed some of the most difficult elements of the competition, including a two throw triple jumps and the event's most innovative lifts. Sale had the only error of the program, singling a planned double Axel. But the error didn't phase the likeable Canadian, and it didn't affect the result.
"To be totally honest, it didn't really bother me," Sale said. "It didn't matter. I felt so good for the whole rest of the program.
"I was in the best place I could be at home," she said. "And I did it."
The team managed to defeat two time world champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia, and their compatriots, reigning world champs Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze finished second; Petrova and Tikhonov were fourth. The Chinese team of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao earned the bronze medal.
Even before settling into her final pose, Sale was in tears. Pelletier followed soon after. And after they found they had won, the two celebrated in top-of-the-world style: throwing into the air stuffed animals they had been given from fans, jumping and screaming. The audience responded accordingly, rocking the GM Place with their raucous cheers.
Two-time world champions Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze hoped to make their return to competitive skating golden. And on any other night, they might have done it. With their charming "Charlie Chaplin" program, the Russians captivated the Vancouver crowd and nearly won back the title they were forced to surrender last year after Berezhnaya tested positive for a banned substance.
But a bobble coming out of their triple twist, and Berezhnaya's fight to land several jumps, cost them the few tenths they needed to win.
"I want to say that I feel really, really good," Sikharulidze said. "This was the last competition of a difficult season for us, and for everybody. But I think this was the most interesting competition in my life in pairs skating."
Indeed, skating fans couldn't have asked for a better competition each of the top five teams skated clean, medal-caliber programs.
World bronze medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China skated the most technically challenging program, landing a double Axel-triple toe loop combination, side-by-side triple toe loops, and two throw triple jumps. But in a contest decided by fractions, sub-par spins and a fluke bobble on the pair's final spin were all it took to turn a golden performance bronze.
"This is a fierce, very tough competition," Zhao said through an interpreter. "I think our performance was very good. Although we did not win this time, we coped with much pressure. We are satisfied."
Not so for the Americans.
Reigning national champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman slid from sixth place after the short program to seventh place, equalling their world showing last year. Scott and Dulebohn fell from their ninth place ranking last year to eleventh after a disastrous long program.
Such a shame, too, because the Americans had a prime opportunity to secure a third Olympic team berth if both teams' placements would have equalled 13 points. A late withdraw from the French team of Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis moved Scott and Dulebohn up a spot. A clean free skate likely would have put a lock on the third spot.
Ina had two uncharacteristic falls, on her opening triple toe loop and again on a throw triple Salchow.
"We're capable of doing so much more than we did tonight," Ina said. "So it's kind of hard to know that we skated the way we did with so much riding on it."
Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn didn't fare any better. From their first side-by-side jumps, it became obvious that Scott wouldn't stand up on her jumps. Four falls later, they were finished.
Scott said later she injured her hip on a throw double Axel during the warm-up, which was later confirmed by team physician Roger Kruse.
"She was unable to pull in tight because of the right hip flexor pull," Kruse said.
The pair decided to continue, in the hopes they could still earn the third Olympic berth.
"Tiffany's tough, so we decided to go on," Dulebohn said. "If we withdrew there was no way we would have three spots, so we had nothing to lose.
"It's a disappointment," he said. "Worse things than that could have happened though."
The U.S. will have two entries in the pairs competition at next year's Olympic Winter Games.
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