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Johnny Weir Strikes Gold at Cup of Russia

America’s Johnny Weir captured his second Grand Prix title on Saturday at Cup of Russia in Moscow. Stéphane Lambiel of Switzerland had to settle for second and Andrei Griazev gave the hometown crowd something to cheer about when he claimed the bronze medal.

Weir and Lambiel were in a tight race after the short. With Lambiel ahead by a mere 0.34 points the free skate was either man’s to win.

Weir reeled off a series of jumping passes to his “Love is War” program by Yoav Gordon. His second triple Axel was deemed under-rotated and was downgraded. Weir scored 149.81 points for the long and racked up an impressive 229.96 points, claiming the title by more than 11 points over Lambiel.

“I was of course happy with the result of this competition, but the performance for me was so difficult,” Weir said at the subsequent press conference. “I was so nervous and I felt so much pressure to put on a good show for this audience. [My coach] Galina Yakovlevna (Zmievskaya) had very good words for me. She told me to ‘just relax and do what you do every day, you have nothing to prove’ and that was comforting, because I knew she wasn’t expecting me to be 100 percent perfect.”

Lambiel had a few stumbles in his flamenco free skate to “Poeta.” He put his hand down on his first jump, fell on his second quad toe loop attempt and doubled his last jump, a flip. The two-time World champion earned a personal best score (138.35) and slipped to second with 218.84 points overall.

Griazev, the reigning Russian champion scored 135.18 points and ranked fifth in the free skate. His score of 206.13 points overall was enough to hold on to third place.

With the win Weir secured his spot in the The Grand Prix Final, which will be held Dec. 13-16 in Torino, Italy.

The Pairs Event

China’s Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang continued their golden ways with a victory in the pairs event over Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov placed third.

Zhang and Zhang earned a level four for their lifts and 122.72 points. “We are not so happy with this performance,” Hao Zhang said. “I still have a bad tooth ache and to compete in two events back to back was hard for us.”

Savchenko and Szolkowy did not have the best skate of their career. Szolkowy singled the opening side-by-side Axel and fell on the side-by side-triple Salchow. The European Champions earned 119.17 points held on to second place with 185.95 points overall. Kawaguchi and Smirnov claimed their second bronze medal of the series edging out their countrymen, Maria Mukhrtova and Maxim Trankov who were in third following the short program. The St. Petersburg based team attempted a quadruple throw Salchow, but Kawaguchi stumbled out of the landing. The Skate Canada bronze medalists earned 118.77 points for the free skate, significantly improving on a previous personal best of 109.04. The claimed bronze with 181.71 points.

Ice Dancing

As expected, the Russian dance team of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin claimed every portion of the event and danced away with gold. Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat from France claimed silver, the team’s second Grand Prix medal and Ukrainians Anna Zadarozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo edged out Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev to pull up from fourth and dance into third place. It is the first Grand Prix medal of the team’s career. All three medalists achieved new personal best scores.

Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the 2007 European silver medalists earned 101.99 points, a new personal best by six points and claimed gold with 205.24 points. “We have worked a lot on our technique since the Cup of China, and maybe the technical side was five percent better than in China. The artistic side was already good in China. I made an error in the step sequence, putting down my foot, and the level went down,” Domnina later told the press.

Péchalat and Bourzat earned 91.48 points for their free dance, a new personal best. The young French team garnered an overall total of 184.38 points, also a new personal best score to claim the silver. “We skated very well, but we didn’t get the levels we had hoped for in some of our elements,” Bourzat said at the press conference. “So we still have work to do. But we’re very happy to have achieved a new personal best in each stage of the competition and to have qualified for the Grand Prix Final.”

Zadarozhniuk and Verbillo scored 161.64 points and claimed the bronze medal. “It’s hard to say what I’m feeling now, but to have won our first Grand Prix medal is a major step for us,” Verbillo said. “I can’t stay that I didn’t think about it at all, the possibility to medal was in my mind. We achieved a lot.”

In an interesting result, Zadarozhniuk and Verbillo’s score was less than a point higher than the teams who placed fourth, fifth and sixth. World Junior Champions Bobrova and Soloviev earned 161.51 points; Katherine Copely and Deividas Stagniunas from Lithuania ranked third in the free dance but finished fifth overall with 161.36 points. Anastasia Grebenkina and Vazgen Azrojan from Armenia came in sixth with 160.72 points.

Domnina and Shabalin qualified for the Grand Prix Final with 28 points and Péchalat and Bourzat’s score of 26 points earned the team a berth at the Final for the first time.