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Friday, March 27, 2009
Kim tops field; Russians take ice dance

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LOS ANGELES -- As Kim Yu-na was sprinting away from the competition in historic fashion, she wasn't really alone. Coach Brian Orser was mimicking her every move by the sideboards, almost as good a show as the two-time world bronze medalist was staging on the ice.

Kim's talent has really blossomed under Orser, the 1984 and '88 Olympic silver medalist -- he barely lost the Battle of the Brians to American Brian Boitano in 1988. He practically climbed on the ice with her during the short program Friday at the World Figure Skating Championships, twisting and bending and leaping while almost exactly shadowing Kim's every movement.

Kim Yu-na
South Korea's Kim Yu-na set a scoring record in the short program.

"At a world championships, this stage brings out the best in the best," Orser said. "Yu-na was competitive, she was on the attack, she was very fierce and she knew what her job was. At the same time, she shared it with the audience."

What she shared was unforgettable.

The two-time Grand Prix champion from South Korea built a stunning 8.2-point lead over Canada's Joannie Rochette with a 76.12 score, the best ever for a woman. It had Orser doing his own sort of triple jump -- three leaps in the air, arms held high -- when she finished.

"I probably got a plus-3 on that," Orser said. "I can't help myself, I am so excited and so proud for her."

In ice dancing, Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin didn't mess around. Their first medal at the world championships, and the Russians made it a gold.

Domnina and Shabalin's powerful yet composed free dance was just enough to hold off training mates Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, giving the Russians the ice dance title. Domnina and Shabalin finished with 206.30 points, 1.22 ahead of the Americans.

The 18-year-old Kim, whose previous best was a 72.24, covered her mouth and screamed when her monstrous number was posted. She credited Orser for much of that success.

"He really knows what I feel in the competitions because there was Brian-Brian and I am doing that now," said Kim, who has an intense rivalry with Japan's Mao Asada.

"I've been doing clean programs in practice, so I felt like I was practicing on the ice. Every element in my performance was great."

Those elements included huge jumps, precise spins, flowing spirals, superior presence and surpassing artistry.

And she did it all at breakneck speed. Fast and elegant at the same time is a tough combination to beat.

"It's one of those moments in skating people will always remember," Orser said.

Defending champion Asada was third heading into Saturday's free skate, and her countrywoman, 2007 world champion Miki Ando, was fourth. They have a long way to go to even challenge Kim.

And the Americans almost certainly have too far to go to secure three spots in the Vancouver Olympics field. They need a combination finish equaling 13 or lower, but Rachael Flatt came in seventh Friday, and U.S. champion Alissa Czisny was 14th.

"It is ideal for us to get three spots back. We'll see what happens," Flatt said. "I think it'll be a good challenge for us ... so I'm ready to do a good long [program]."

Rochette, 23, has been down this slippery slope before. She was second in the short program at the 2006 worlds in Calgary, sending Canadian hopes soaring for their first women's world champ since 1973. Instead, Rochette plummeted to seventh.

Rochette's long, graceful spirals earned her enough of a boost Friday to get to second place, albeit barely in the same stratosphere as Kim.

"That's always been my strength, to fight," Rochette said. "I fight for everything all the time. I felt all I was missing was a little bit of spark and to show my joy for skating."

Her fellow Canadians took plenty of joy from Rochette's routine, standing and proudly displaying their maple leaf flags as she waved to them.

Asada's lyrical performance to "Clair de Lune" was almost forgotten in the wake of Kim's magnificent routine. Asada was a budding lilac during an exquisite combination spin and sublime spirals. But she also cut a triple lutz to a double, an unusual error that was enough to drop her to third.

Ando's grace and maturity showed throughout her program, even though she's been plagued by a left thigh problem. Her only significant error was on her second jump in a triple lutz-triple loop combination, which was under-rotated. That sloppiness, even though it came on a particularly difficult combo, was enough to drop the 2007 winner to fourth.

Czisny continued her struggles since January's nationals. Czisny was awful at Four Continents, finishing ninth, and Friday was nearly as dismal. Her performance to "The Swan" pretty much was all wet after Czisny fell on her triple flip when she got too close to the end boards. She also went down on a double axel, a true no-no for an elite skater.

"I don't train to skate like that," she said with a blank gaze. "Today is disappointing because that's not the way I've been practicing. I have higher expectations of myself and today it just didn't happen."

Flatt, the runner-up at nationals, was much superior to her countrywoman, although she stepped out of her opening triple flip. But Flatt was clean the rest of the way, with a soaring flying spin to finish.

In the ice dance, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada won the bronze medal. They edged Meryl Davis and Charlie White by a mere 0.04 -- a margin usually seen in swimming, not figure skating.

Domnina and Shabalin had never won a medal at worlds; their best finish was fifth in 2007. They were heavily favored last year, but had to withdraw after he aggravated a knee injury.

Now the title is theirs.

The power was undeniable, evident in every lift, spin and step they did in their "Spartacus" dance. But this wasn't simple brute strength, it was combined with a grace and balance that made their lifts like a piece performance art. Many were done with him on one skate; that alone is incredibly difficult, but she was also unassisted, meaning she was working just as hard as he was.

Parts of Belbin and Agosto's "Tosca" program were incredibly powerful. Their lifts were intricate and difficult, breathing life into the century-old tale of angst and tortured love. On one, she stood in his hand in a complete split, her other leg straight up to the ceiling. In one fluid move, he turned her was upside down and twisted her around as if twirling a rifle.

They have focused on their skating skills since switching coaches, and the work showed in their superior speed and edge quality.

But there were little details that needed just a touch more polishing. Twizzles that were ever so slightly off, a patch of footwork that seemed a touch to frantic. Hardly major flaws, and no surprise, really. He was off the ice for several weeks after herniating a disk in his back in December, a signifiant injury at the most inopportune time of the season.

When you're chasing gold, however, even the slightest details count.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.