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Zhang-Zhang Rank Second in Short Program
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The Chinese pairs followed two-time world champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin to rank the second, while China's Pang Qing and Tong Jian, and Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo were fourth and fifth.

Zhang-Zhang began with an intricate one-armed lift that led to a big throw triple loop, energizing the crowd -- particularly the Chinese fans who shook colorful rattles shaped like hands and held up banners supporting their skaters.

The Zhangs, who are not related, closed with a huge double twist that could have been a quad if it was permitted, and a complex combination spin. The 2005 world bronze medalists slapped hands at the end, then saw a personal-best 64.72 points go up on the board.

That put them ahead until almost the end, when "Tot and Max" took the ice.

"We both have one aim," Zhang Dan said. "We wanted to perform our best in the Olympic Games."

Their countrymen, two-time world champions and Salt Lake City bronze medalists Shen and Hongbo, were happy simply to skate at all.

Zhao has made an amazingly quick comeback from a torn Achilles' tendon in August. He only began triple jumps last week, but he hit his triple toe loop while Shen was touching her hand to the ice Saturday night.

"The power is not sufficient, but the performance I am happy for," he said.

Totmianina and Marinin easily were the class of the event. They earned 68.64 points, with the highest totals for both technique and components.

They were so good the crowd was hushed for much of the performance, the near silence broken only by the sound of their blades majestically cutting through the ice.

The free skate is Monday night, when "Tot and Max" could become the 12th straight Russian or Soviet pair to win this Olympic title.

"Unbeatable, I would like to believe they're unbeatable," coach Oleg Vasiliev said. "But figure skating depends on many things -- ice, judges, political situations."

It was the first Olympic event under the code of points created in the wake of the 2002 pairs judging scandal. Three of the Salt Lake City gold medalists -- Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia — are in Turin to watch the games.

Totmianina and Marinin skated as one to "Snowstorm" by Georgi Sviridov. Their side-by side triple toe loops were flawless, and they finished with a superb string of combination spins.

"I think it was the best performance of our short program this season," she said.

And they didn't succumb to the pressure of keeping their nation's golden streak going.

"I feel the atmosphere inside the ice rink was going up, so it was like a stone fell off my shoulders when we finished," Marinin said. "It was just more concentration on the skating. Maybe that looks like I am really nervous, but it is not that."

Inoue and Baldwin's triple followed the one they did last month at US nationals and helped get them 61.27 points.

"It felt fantastic, just what I wanted," added Inoue, who revealed this week she had lung cancer in 1998, just 18 months after her father died of the disease.

In the third place were Russia's Maria Petrova, skating on a sore ankle, and Alexei Tikhonov with a clean performance including a complex lift during which he swung her between his legs and into the air, followed by a neat twisting dismount.
That got the red-and-white uniformed Russian athletes in the crowd excited, but they booed when they heard the marks for the world silver medalists.

In the new format, only nine of the 12 judges who score the event count, and the high and low scores are thrown out.
"We skated with our soul, with our heart and you can see the audience was with us," Tikhonov said.

Inoue and Baldwin don't have the complete package the top couples possess. They do have that unique throw, however, and it was even better at the Olympics than at nationals.

"I knew before we stepped on the ice what would happen," said Baldwin, who pumped his fist when Inoue landed smoothly.
Baldwin motioned for the fans, including first lady Laura Bush -- to stand up at the conclusion of the program. Whenever he saw an American flag -- or a familiar face from the States — he paused to acknowledge them. And their cheers.

The other Americans, Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem, were 13th after he fell on side-by-side triple toe loops.

Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy struggled and were seventh, perhaps distracted by coach Ingo Steuer's alleged ties to the East German secret police in the 1980s. Steuer got a court order allowing him to work with the couple here.

(AP via China Daily February 12, 2006)

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