FIGURE SKATING: Chait, Sakhnovsky, Serov shine at Skate Israel

Free Dance to Ravel's Bolero earns them a score of 99.69.

In front of a wildly cheering, highly partisan crowd at Skate Israel, Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky captivated the audience and Roman Serov vaulted into first place to earn gold medals Sunday at the Canada Center in Metulla. The International Skating Union sanctioned event is the only international figure skating tourney in Israel. Chait and Sakhnovsky, the sixth ranked pair in the world, performed for the first time this year in competition. Their intricate movements in the Free Dance to Ravel's Bolero earned them a score of 99.69 which combined with their scores from the Compulsory Dance and Original Dance gave them a total of 209.50. The Israeli stars impressed everyone in attendance, including the judges. Chief referee Christopher Buchanan of Great Britain told The Jerusalem Post that he was "very happy to see the level of the skating that I've seen here this week... There has been a great improvement in [Chait and Sakhnovsky's] style, - they appear to have benefited from the change in their training as they have a very interesting program that was very well skated." The duo is now coached by Evgeny Platov, the only two-time Olympic gold medalist in Ice Dancing, and Alexander Zhulin, a former world champ. Gary Hoppe, another one of the judges, called their Free Dance performance "wonderful." "Their choreography and interpretation were very good, and they had very nice lifts," Hoppe said. Russians Oxana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, ranked eighth in the world, took silver in their first appearance on Israeli ice with a 179.57 score. Armenia's Anastasia Grebinkina and Vazgen Azroyan scored 172.06 for the bronze, followed by Israeli siblings, Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky (155.06) and Hungarians Zsuzsanna Nagy and Gyorgy Elek (130.23). In the Ladies dancing, Israel's Tamar Katz was shut out of a medal, as she finished fourth with a total score of 96.38. Viktoria Pavuk of Hungary was easily the best of the Ladies on the ice and demonstrated a graceful presence in winning the gold medal with a 152.41 total. Sara Falotico of Belgium (113.31) was second and Russia's Elena Zhitkova (101.51) third. Roman Serov came from behind with a vibrant and nearly flawless Free Skate performance to the music of "World of Technology" sandwiching in Robert Miles's "Children" to bypass his competition and vaulting into a well deserved first place with a 169.51 score. "It was very hard to begin my full training program this summer, because the rink always seemed to be packed, so most of my training was confined to the early morning hours," Serov said. "So far, I've been working without a coach, but my coach, Viktor Kudriavtsev, will come from Russia before the Grand Prix events." Platov thinks that Serov can do better. "Serov certainly has the potential, and needs a coach that will push him even harder." Hot on his skates was Alexander Magerovski of Russia, who moved up to second after the Short Program with a 168.57 total, while countryman Alexander Shubin dropped from first place after the Short Program to third with a 168.50 combined score. The 2005 Skate Israel came to a close with a beautifully displayed Gala event. Both Dance couples and Serov have been invited to two Grand Prix events this year, the level that ranks only below the European and World Championships. All of them will be at the Cup of China on November 3-6, with Chait and Sakhnovsky then taking part in the Cup of Russia on November 24-27. The Zaretskys and Serov will compete in the NHK Trophy in Japan in early December.