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  • Tuesday, March 28, 2000

    Canuck pair third despite stumble

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

      NICE, France -- The judges obviously were buying what David Pelletier and Jamie Sale were selling yesterday.

     Even though Sale stumbled slightly on the entry of their camel spin -- thereby throwing off their timing, a significant mistake -- the rising Canadian team placed third after the short program at the world figure skating championships. It has a shot at winning it all in the free skate tomorrow, with two-time defending champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia having withdrawn as a result of her testing positive for a banned stimulant.

     "I felt like such an idiot," Sale said of the mixup. "It's such an easy element. You do it with your eyes closed."

     But the Canadians, who shocked the skating world by winning Skate America in November, learned quickly at their first worlds never to look a gift horse in the mouth.

     "Do I deserve (the marks)? I guess I'll take them and shut up," Pelletier said after judges held them up in third, much to the consternation of the French fans in the Palais des Expositions.

     The French team of Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis, second at the recent Grand Prix final in Lyon, skated a relatively clean program and was marked fourth.

     Obviously the judges, particularly the American, Joseph Inman, who placed Pelletier and Sale first, sent out a message: The time has arrived for the young Canadians, who have been together for only two seasons. That was the message the team's coach, Richard Gauthier, conveyed to the judges when he talked to them individually at the Grand Prix final.

     "I told them, 'Don't be afraid, they are good. Give them the marks if they do it,' " he said, reminding the media that, other than the camel, his skaters nailed their short program.

     The judges responded in kind, particularly for presentation. Skating to the Por Una Cabeza tango, Sale and Pelletier were awarded marks from 5.7 to 5.9 for artistry.

     The French judge, Marie Le Gougne, placed Canada fourth and France second while the Canadian judge, Susan Blatz, scored the teams third and sixth respectively.

     The Chinese team, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, second at the 1999 worlds, placed first, followed by Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov of Russia.

     It would be a huge upset if the Montreal-based Sale and Pelletier won gold in their first worlds, but given that their Long Story free skate already has earned perfect scores of 6.0 this season, there's a chance they could pull it off.

     Two-time national champs Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz of the Montreal Pierrefonds club crashed and burned when Wirtz fell during their footwork sequence.

     Afterward, Wirtz, at 30 the oldest competitor at these championships, stood stunned beside his partner.

     The hard-luck couple was 11th heading into the free skate.

     "If my confidence is shot because of the (fall), then I suck," said Wirtz, a native of Marathon, Ont. "But I don't think it is. I think we're on the right track."



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