Chait, Sakhnovsky vie for ice dance medal at Grand Prix Final

Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky, Israel's premier ice dancing duo, are competing this weekend at the International Skating Union Grand Prix Final in Tokyo. After six ISU GP events over the past month and a half, six finalists have emerged in each of the four disciplines: men's, ladies', dance and pairs. Chait and Sakhnovsky, by virtue of their second place finishes at the Cups of Russia and China, are currently in fourth place, although their overall marks are higher than anyone else's except for the top-ranked Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov of Russia. Navka and Kostomarov finished first at those two events. The standings take into account only the points gained for finishing first, second, third, etc. The other dance finalists are Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon of Canada, Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov, as well as Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, all of Russia, and Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France. "[The Grand Prix Final] will give us some indication as to how the coming Olympics could shape up," said Alex Zaydman, an Israeli judge and figure skating coach. "Since Alexander Zhulin, a former world champion, joined their coaching team this season, their technical improvement has been notable." Their technical improvement has also been noted by figure skating judges, technical specialists and referees, according to Judith Javor, the general secretary of the Israel Ice Skating Federation. Chait and Sakhnovsky's trials and tribulations in the Grand Prix series, not to mention other major championships in previous years, might have made lesser competitors give up. However, they have taken the setbacks in stride, and have continued working to improve, with the hope that their performances on the ice will be judged on their merits alone. Two years ago, they missed out on the GP Final due to improprieties by a technical specialist at the opening event, when the New Judging System was first being used in a GP event. An appeal was filed at the time with the ISU over the improprieties, and while nothing came of it then, changes were made the following season to correct the situation. In last year's GP Final, Chait and Sakhnovsky came within less than a point of beating the then-world No. 2 couple, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, for a bronze medal, after entering the final program, the original dance, in third. Will this be the charmed year for them?