Pang-Tong lead pairs event while Olympic champs Virtue-Moir take lead in dance at worlds

By Colleen Barry, AP
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pang-Tong, Virtue-Moir lead figure skating worlds

TURIN, Italy — Olympic silver medalists Pang Qing and Tong Jian skated a flawless and elegant short program to take the lead in the pairs competition at the world figure skating championships on Tuesday.

Pang and Tong earned a season-best 75.28 points for their short program, the same “The Pearlfishers” that they skated to in Vancouver. The 2006 world champions are two points ahead of Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov.

Earlier Tuesday, Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won what might be the last ice dance compulsories at the worlds.

Pang and Tong soared on side-by-side triple toes and a throw triple loop, and their score was nearly four points higher than in Vancouver. Olympic champions Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbao are not competing at worlds.

“At the Olympics, we were very stressed. Today we were relaxed. I think that might be the reason,” Tong said.

Two-time defending world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy eked into the top three in the pairs short, even though he doubled their side-by-side triple toe loops. But the Germans will have to fight to keep their spot on the podium in Wednesday’s free skate.

Savchenko and Szolkowy, bronze medalists at the Vancouver Olympics, scored 69.52 points, putting them a mere 0.04 points ahead of Russia’s Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov. They are 0.32 points ahead of China’s Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao.

U.S. champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett are in sixth place. Fellow Americans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig are ninth.

“Going into the Olympics, Jeremy had an injury and we were limited on some of the training we were able to do,” Denney said, referring to a pulled muscle in Barrett’s rib cage. “When we got home from the Olympics, we were able to train and get back to our normal, daily regimen, so we were much better prepared coming into this competition.”

Virtue and Moir scored 44.13 points for the compulsory dance, ahead of Vancouver silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White (43.25). Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy were third on 40.85.

The Canadians and their training partners, U.S. champions Davis and White, are the vanguard of ice dance, skaters who are trying to reshape the once-staid discipline into something more dynamic — and athletic. To them, compulsories have outlived their usefulness.

“I don’t think it is necessary anymore in today’s sport of ice dance. I think it has come a long way and (compulsory dance) is holding it back,” Moir said. “That’s our opinion.

“But what do I know? I’m only an Olympic champion,” Moir added with a laugh.

Much like the old school figures, compulsory dance is a ratings killer and hardly a stadium draw. It’s a full afternoon of dance teams performing the same steps to the same music one after another.

The International Skating Union will vote at its congress in June on proposals that would eliminate the compulsory dance. That would leave two segments of competition, the original dance and free dance.

Virtue said they spend up to two hours a day on compulsories, which both she and Moir believe is time that could be better spent.

“I can’t imagine what we could do with our OD and free program if we had that extra time,” Virtue said.

Davis and White agree. White gave a whoop of joy off ice at the idea that this compulsory could well be the last, and Davis later posted a picture on Twitter of the two couples with the caption, “We may be done with compulsory dances forever…yes, those are genuine smiles!”

“We believe it is not really taking dance in the direction most people are trying to take it right now,” Davis said. “We have always been trying to put athletics in the sport.”

But compulsory dance also develops the basic skill set that helps distinguish the discipline — deep edges, speed, stroking, skating in unison — and some skaters are reluctant to see it go. Even if the ISU eliminates them at the senior level, some said compulsories should continue to be required for junior ice dancers.

“You can’t call it ice dance” if there are no compulsories, American Evan Bates said. “It really is a shame. The compulsory is the one thing that is less subjective with ice dance.”

will not be displayed