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Zhangs Lead Skating Championships
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Olympic silver medallists Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao staked their claim to the vacant pairs title at the world figure skating championships on Monday with a precision short program dominated by Chinese skaters.

With the retirement of Olympic and world champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, Zhang and Zhang quickly moved to fill the void with a flawlessly executed routine that earned marks of 65.58 to nose ahead of compatriots Pang Qing and Tong Jian with 64.98.

Former world champions Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov sit third with 63.04.

If not for a spectacular spill -- followed by an even more stunning comeback during the free skate in Turin -- Zhang and Zhang might have arrived in Calgary as Olympic champions.

Skating second last in the final group and performing to Led Zeppelin's Kashmir, Zhang and Zhang avoided the disaster that befell them in Turin when she crashed to the ice on an attempted throw quad salchow and the pair were forced to stop their routine.

After briefly leaving the ice, they returned to complete their routine and win a courageous silver medal.

Hometown favourites Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin, who have never placed higher than ninth in Olympic or world competition, delighted the Calgary crowd with their lively routine to move into fourth place and medal contention with a score of 62.66.

The fourth placed Canadians are followed closely by Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.

American champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin landed what is quickly becoming their signature throw triple axel but missed on side-by-side triples leaving themselves in sixth place and plenty of work to do to in Wednesday's free skate to reach the podium.


Earlier in the day, Olympic silver medallist Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland got the defence of his world title off to a solid start comfortably winning his qualifying group.

Lambiel, who has been battling a sore knee and very nearly added his name to a long list of Olympic medallists to drop out of event, displayed no distress landing a pair of quadruple jumps during a routine that earned top marks of 160.90.

American medal hopeful Evan Lysacek stumbled through a crash filled routine yet still managed to hold onto second place although he remains well back of the Swiss with a score of 139.70.

"I got the wind knocked out of me badly so it took about half way through before I got my wind back, and I fell on my leg so it kind of went numb on me," said Lysacek, in a U.S. figure skating release. "But it was enough. That's what today is about."

Ilia Klimkin, who will carry Russian medal hopes in the absence of Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko, was third with 130.60 followed by a pair of Chinese skaters, Zhang Min and Li Chengjing in fourth and fifth respectively with 128.42 and 125.70.

The second men's qualifying group is scheduled to skate later on Monday.

(Reuters via China Daily, March 21, 2006)

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