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Abbott and Kim Claim Singles Titles

Domnina and Shabalin Squeeze Out a Gold

Jeremy Abbott of the United States and Yu-Na Kim of South Korea cruised to first-place finishes in the singles events Saturday at Cup of China, being held at Beijing’s Capital Gymnasium.

In the men’s event Abbott handily won the title. He scored 233.44 points, to teammate Stephen Carriere’s 217.25. Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic pulled up from fourth to capture the bronze medal.

Overnight leader Abbott looked nervous in the warm-up, but when he stepped on to the ice he delivered one of his best performances of his career so far. “I really have to thank my coaches a lot for that. My coaches Becky Calvin and Tom Zakrajsek have trained my very hard this year,” Abbott said. “We strategized my competitions a lot differently this year.”

Skating to modern the Tango “Eight Seasons,” the 23-year-old reeled off a triple Lutz, triple flip, triple Axel, Salchow, triple Axel-triple toeloop combination, a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop and a triple loop as well as excellent spins, two of which were graded a level four.

He also earned a level three for both step sequences. Abbott earned 156.39 points (79.39/77.00) and improved his previous personal best of 145.53 points significantly. His overall competition mark of 233.44 points, surpassed his previous personal best total score by a huge 27.40.

Skating to “Firebird” by Igor Stravinski, Carriere gave a solid program that included two triple Axels (one in combination with a double toe), two triple Lutzes (one in combination with a double toe as well) and three more triples as well as fast and well centered spins. The only glitch came when the 2007 World junior Champion stepped out of a triple flip. Carriere scored 145.25 points (76.05/69.20) which is a personal best, and moved up from third to second at 217.25 points total.

“Just like yesterday, the performance wasn’t perfect. I’m always striving for perfection,” Carriere explained. ”It was a good start to the season, a better start than last year at Skate America. I’m proud of myself for that, I’m proud of coming out to Beijing and getting my job done.”

Verner, who stood in fourth place after a disappointing performance in the short program, rallied with a passionate Tango routine. He landed an excellent quadruple toe loop – the only quad in the competition – and five triples including a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

The 2008 European champion fell on a triple flip attempt and doubled his second Lutz, but moved up to the podium with 139.93 points (65.13/75.80) in the Free Skating and 205.48 overall. "This was the first quad done in the program this season," Verner said. "It was not my best, but to skate my best in my first Grand Prix was not my goal. The goals lie somewhere else."

Artem Borodulin (RUS) came in fourth in what was his senior Grand Prix debut. The World junior silver medalist pulled off five triples, but didn’t go for a triple Axel (191.38 points). Vaughn Chipeur (CAN), who was ranked second after the short program, slipped to fifth after popping a few jumps (187.50 points). Jialiang Wu (CHN) finished sixth (177.75 points).

Abbott now has 15 points and will try to qualify for the Grand Prix Final at his next event Cup of Russia in Moscow. Carriere got 13 points and will compete again at the NHK Trophy. Verner moves on to Moscow with 11 points.

Ladies, Free Skating

While crowd favorite Kim of Korea skated to the gold in the ladies final, Japan’s Miki Ando claimed the silver medal and Laura Lepistö from Finland earned the bronze.

“I felt tense in the short program on Thursday, and I tried to be more relaxed today, and I felt good on the ice,” Kim said.

The 18-year-old sparkled in her routine to “Sheherazade.” The audience greeted the South Korean skater with thunderous applause. Skating with confidence and ease, the two-time World bronze medalist produced a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, a double Axel, a double Axel-triple toe loop combination, a triple Lutz-double toe as well as a triple Salchow and another triple Axel. Kim’s only error came when she stepped out of her first triple Lutz.

Kim was awarded a level four for all her spins and spirals and a level three for the straight line steps. She earned a season-best score of 128.11 points for her program (66.43 element score/61.68 program component score) and racked up a total of 191.75 to take her second gold medal on the Grand Prix circuit this season.

Ando, the 2007 World champion, scored 111.58 points (55.18/56.40), which is a new seasons best, and had 170.88 points overall.

Ando delivered a dynamic performance to “Giselle” and hit a triple Salchow, triple Lutz-double loop combination, a triple loop and a double Axel-double loop-double loop combination, but the second jump in her triple toe-triple loop combo and the triple flip were under-rotated and downgraded. Ando also stepped out of a triple Lutz.

Her change foot camel and her flying combination spins received a level four, while the spiral, the combination spin and the footwork were a level three.

“I missed some of my jumps a little, but I felt a lot better than at Skate America,” Ando said.

Lepistö’s elegant program to “Don Juan de Marco” featured a double Axel, a triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, a triple loop, and two triple Salchows in combination as well as strong spins.

However, the Finnish champion popped a Lutz and another loop jump. She scored 100.82 points (48.82/52.00) which added up to 159.42 points.

“I am not very satisfied,” admitted the reigning European bronze medalist. “I missed a few jumps, but the points were still pretty good. I hope to do better in the free skating in Japan (at NHK Trophy).”

Ashley Wagner (USA) came in fourth with a powerful interpretation of “Spartacus” by Aram Khatchaturian. She landed five triples, but one Lutz was under-rotated (155.59 points).

Susanna Pöykiö (FIN) was fifth at 148.03 while European silver medalist Sarah Meier (SUI) finished sixth (142.31 points).

Kim now heads the Grand Prix standings with the maximum of 30 points from her two wins and is qualified for the final in Korea in December. Ando got 13 points in Bejing and has 24 overall, which should be enough to make the final, although she will have to await to learn if she is one of the top six finishers in the series will compete at the Grand Prix Final. Lepistö pocketed 11 points and will compete in three weeks in Japan at NHK Trophy again.

Free Dance

In what was a very close competition, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia edged out Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the United States by just 0.36 points to claim victory in the ice dancing event. Russia’s Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski took the bronze medal.

Domnina and Shabalin earned 91.19 points (44.20 element score/46.99 program component score) and accumulated a total of 186.77 points. Belbin and Agosto, the five-time U.S. champions, two-time World medalists and 2006 Olympic silver medalists, scored 91.18 points (44.30/46.88) for their free dance, losing by the thinnest of margins — 0.01 points — to Domnina and Shabalin, and remained in second place at 186.41 points.

“We are happy with our first place here,” Shabalin said. “We skated well for this period of time. We’ll try to improve our skating and do better and better each time.”

Domnina and Shabalin delivered a dramatic dance to “Spartacus”. They opened the performance with a set of twizzles with change of direction but no change of foot and a circular step sequence that was graded a level three.

The 2008 European champions also executed a level three diagonal step sequence. The routine was highlighted by interesting lifts such as a straight line-rotational and a curve lift.

“We picked Spartacus, because I always wanted to be a hero, at least on the ice,” Shabalin said with a smile.

Belbin and Agosto put out a passionate performance of their “Tosca” program, completing intricate footwork sequences that both were awarded a level three, innovative lifts and a level-four dance combination spin.

“We felt tonight it was a little bit rough, it was a little bit difficult to compete the program,” Belbin said. “We didn’t quite feel like we were into our knees enough throughout the program, so we’ll go home and continue to work on that, but we are proud that we were able to continue fighting through the program, continue to try to show the character of Tosca, and hopefully the next time will be much smoother and much cleaner.”

Skating to “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini,” Khokhlova and Novitski portrayed genius musician Niccolo Paganini and his muse in their lively dance. Their routine featured spectacular lifts such as a one-armed rotational lift, a straight line-rotational with several changes of position and a curve lift. The reigning European bronze medalists earned a level three for their diagonal step sequence while the circular footwork was graded a level two.

Khokhlova and Novitski complied up 88.70 points (44.30/44.40) and claimed the bronze with a total score of 179.50 points. “We are actually very pleased with today. A lot of things worked out that didn’t go so well in the past two days. It felt easy to skate and it was nice to receive so much support from the audience,” Novitski said.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA) were ranked fourth (173.11 points). They showed a romantic program to the “Love Story” soundtrack. Anna Zadarozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo (UKR) finished fifth with a “Carmen” program (158.90 points) and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrej Poje (CAN) were sixth (157.20). They had chosen the “Dr. Zhivago” soundtrack.

Domnina and Shabalin received 15 points and will compete again at the Cup of Russia in two weeks. There, they will meet Khokhlova and Novitski again, who earned 11 points today. Belbin and Agosto collected another 13 points for of 26 points overall. It looks like their point total should hold up for a berth in the final, but they will have to await to hear their fate. The top six skaters in the series earn a spot in the final in each discipline.

The Cup of China was the third of six events in the series. The skaters compete for global prize money of $180,000 (U.S.) per individual event of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating and receive points according to their placements.