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Ice-Skating: Four Continents Dominated by Shen\Zhao
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China's pairing of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo continued to dominate figure skating skating's pairs on Wednesday, out-scoring world champions Pang Qing and Tong Jian to win the short program at the Four Continents championship in Colorado Springs.

Having announced their upcoming retirement at the end of the season, Shen and Zhao look poised to exit the world stage in a blaze of glory, having so far won every event this season, including the Grand Prix final and Asian Winter Games.

The two-time world champions and 2002 Olympic bronze medalists could add a second Four Continents title to their collection with an efficient if unspectacular short program that earned them top marks of 69.29.

Compatriots, Pang and Tong, are second on 65.80, but they are still recovering following a year plagued by illness and injury.
Still recovering from albuminuria, a condition affecting the kidneys but which can spread to other organs, Pang cannot train for more than an hour without taking a break.

Tong, meanwhile, skated on Wednesday wearing a black headband to hide scars resulting from a car crash in Beijing that left him unconscious with a nasty gash on his forehead.

"After winning the world championships, practices haven't been going too well because of her health. And in January I got in a car accident and I crashed through the window," Tong told reporters. "Right now our energy is a little low while the high altitude has affected us."

The first world champions pair from China, Shen and Zhao confirmed that Thursday's free skate would mark their last competitive appearance in North America preceding an international farewell at the world championships next month in Tokyo.

The ground-breaking pair have refused to rule out for a possible return, saying they may re-consider in 2009 and scope out the competition for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

"After this competition (worlds) we plan to retire," said Shen. "We will leave the competition and if we are feeling good in 2009 we might try to compete in the (2010) Olympics."

Earlier, Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto got off to a shaky start in the defence of their Four Continents ice dance crown.

Taking advantage of the four-times US champions lackluster performance, world silver medallists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon of Canada produced a clean skate to lead the field with 38.54.

Skating the Golden Waltz, Agosto's stumble was hardly noticed by the sparse crowd of about 100 spectators sprinkled through the World Arena but caught the attention of the judges, causing the home town favourites to come second with a mark of 37.72.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White, third place finishers at the US nationals, sit third on 33.68 going into Thursday's original dance.

(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2007)

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