Shen and Zhao win Four Continents title

The Chinese pair team of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao and their countrymen Qing Pang and Jian Tong reined supreme in the pairs free skate tonight with Shen and Zhao wowing the audience to clinch the gold medal and Pang and Tong earning the silver.

It was a competition that began with a horrible on- ice accident that ended up with Canadian pairs champion Jessica Dubé in the hospital.

Jessica Dubé (19) and her partner Bryce Davison (20) started out successfully in their free skate, nailing each element with excitement and ease, but when the duo started their side-by-side flying camel spin, it was obvious to the audience that they were too close to each other to maintain a safe distance.

Davison was unable to successfully maintain a comfortable distance from Dubé, and on the third revolution of the spin, his blade cut into her face below the eye. Dubé immediately fell to the ice, and medical staff removed her promptly.

At press time, Dubé’s coach, Annie Barabe issued a short statement that said Dubé is in ‘good spirits’ and is getting excellent medical care at Memorial Hospital here in Colorado Springs.

“She is doing very well and she will be fine,” said ISU Medical advisor Jane Moran. “She has seen a specialist, a facial trauma surgeon, and is currently undergoing surgery for repair. The eye was not affected at all. Nothing was broken. She is receiving excellent medical care.”

The two-time and current Canadian Champions were in eight place going into the long when the withdrew after the accident.

Editor’s Note: Update(s) will be provided if and when they become available.

Shen and Zhao, skating for what was to be their last time as Olympic eligibles on competition ice in the United States, performed a mesmerizing program made up of elements interwoven with exquisite choreography that drew a standing ovation from the audience.

Skating to Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet, the pair opened with a triple toe loop – double toe loop combination, and immediately transitioned to successfully land side-by-side double Axels from a spread eagle entrance. This set the tone for their trademark split triple twist in which Shen seemingly floated across the ice, drawing gasps from the audience.

The performance had only one small flaw in the spiral sequence when Zhao missed a connection move that caused a lackluster entry into their combination spin. As a result, the team lost speed towards the end and received a one point deduction for a time violation.

“I feel like today was a big surprise,” Zhao said through an interpreter. “Coming here, we had a lot of obstacles since the last two competitions were really close [together]. I am still suffering from jet lag and we feel very happy to have scored over 200 points for the second time.”

Their score of 203.05 points easily bested the rest of the field, but Shen and Zhao plan to earn more points at the World Championships by adding an opening triple toe loop-triple toe loop sequence.

After the competition, the 2006-07 Grand Prix Final Champions said that they will reconsider their [eligible] status and that they may be back to compete next season.

“We’re going to rethink that decision,” said a very happy Shen, whose sentiment was echoed by her partner.

Winning the silver medal, but some 18 points behind their teammates, was Pang and Tong. The Chinese Champions completed all of the technical elements planned in their program that was full of content, but unlike their counterparts, Pang and Tong were not able to translate the emotion of their program as well to the audience.

Skating to music from Phantom of the Opera, the 2006 Cup of China silver medalists executed a high-flying split triple twist and difficult side-by-side jumps in their demanding program. The difference was in the execution of the finer points of the choreography, as well as in the component scores for which Shen and Zhao were justifiably rewarded.

The team has been hampered by injury and illness since winning the world title in March, and are hoping to be better prepared for the World Championships next month in Tokyo.

In January, Tong was involved with a head-on traffic accident in Beijing, China. The 27-year-old received 16 stitches in his head as a result of going through the windshield. His partner Pang is still battling albuminuria, a somewhat obscure kidney condition, and is unable to train for more than an hour without taking a break.

Still, the team was able to score a total of 185.33 points to finish ahead of Americans Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, the bronze medalists.

“Today’s performance for us was satisfactory because we experienced a lot of obstacles in health and other things,” said Tong. “Our jumps have improved and it is important to get better. We have confidence that we will do a lot better at the World Championships.”

Inoue and Baldwin skated a much-improved program than they did at the US Championships two weeks ago in Spokane, Wash., committing only one major error on their signature throw triple Axel.

The 2006 Skate America Champions opened their Puccini program with side-by-side triple toe loops, Baldwin’s nemesis element, and then performed a clean split double twist.

“I was very happy to do the triple toe,” said a beaming Baldwin. “I have missed it five times in a row this season, and I was just ecstatic that I did it.”

Despite a fall on a throw triple Axel by Inoue, the only other error in the team’s program was a step out by Baldwin on the back half of their double Axel-double Axel sequence. In the end, their total score of 175.48 was easily enough to clinch the bronze medal for last year’s champions.

“Unfortunately I fell on the throw triple Axel, but the performance level was really good,” said Inoue. “I felt that at Nationals I was very nervous and we held back a lot and didn’t skate aggressively like we’ve been skating at home. I just wanted to be very aggressive.”

“We really attacked that first part of the program,” added a beaming Baldwin. “I was very happy to do the triple toe,” said a beaming Baldwin. “I have missed it five times in a row this season, and I was just ecstatic that I did it.”

USA’s Brooke Castille and Ben Okolski smashed their previous personal best score in the free skate by more than 16 points, but settled for fifth place overall with a total of 160.04 points.

The newly-crowned US Champions skated their Requiem for a Dream program with attack and brilliantly choreographed angst between each of the technical elements. The team also performed a high-flying split triple twist, but could only manage double Axels as the most difficult solo jumps in the program.

Still, the 2006 Nebelhorn Trophy Champions are encouraged by their placement and scores, and plan to begin working on putting the triple toe loop back in their program starting tomorrow.

The Canadian team of Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin, as well as teammates Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, admittedly had Dubé on their minds as they skated through their programs. Both teams struggled to complete their elements.

Marcoux and Buntin had a great start to their L’Amour program, landing a triple toe loop-triple toe loop sequence to open, but 2006 Skate Canada and NHK Trophy silver medalists later struggled with planned side-by-side double Axels in which Marcoux popped her jump while Buntin fell on his. On their side-by-side spin, the team stopped skating altogether, waiting for the music to catch up to them. The team placed fifth in the free skate and fourth overall with a total of 162.79 points.

Langlois and Hay struggled through their program, committing numerous errors – most notably, falling on the throw triple lutz and unsuccessfully completing one of their overhead lifts.

The team slipped from fifth to seventh place overall.

“I had a hard time staying focused,” explained Langlois. “I didn’t let it (Dubé and Davison’s accident) bother me, but as we got closer to the side-by-side [spins], I began to have a hard time and had to fight my brain to stay focused.”

Langlois herself was injured in a competition several years ago with former partner Patrice Archetto on a throw jump. “For a long time after that, I refused to be thrown but I had to move past it.”

USA’s Naomi Nari Nam and Themistocles Leftheris were sixth.

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