Israeli ice dancing pair finish 4th in Nanjing

Israeli ice dancing pair improve on recent result from the Grand Prix event in US; Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin score convincing win.

Domnina Shabalin 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Domnina Shabalin 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Alexandra and Roman Zaretski finished in fourth place at the ice dancing competition at the Cup of China Grand Prix event on Saturday afternoon in Nanjing, China. The Israeli brother and sister, who finished 22nd in this year's winter Olympics in Turin, improved on their result from the Grand Prix event in America two weeks ago where they finished in ninth position. Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin scored a convincing win in the free dance and overtook Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the Olympic ice dance silver medalists, for the overall title. "Obviously we can do a much better job than what we did here today, but it was a good place to start from," Belbin said. "I think that we just need more time with this program to become more solid and more confident." Domnina and Shabalin, ninth at the Olympics, won the compulsory dance on Thursday, but Belbin and Agosto went into the lead after Friday's original dance. "It's great to be back on the competitive scene now," said Agosto, who has not competed since the world championships last March. Third was another Russian couple, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski. Canadian-born Belbin was sworn in as a US citizen on December 31, after some assistance from Congress and President George W. Bush, in a rush to get her on the Olympic team. In the women's event, Hungarian Julia Sebestyen edged out Emily Hughes, sister of 2002 Olympic gold medalist Sarah, to win the gold medal. Hughes led after Thursday's short program and appeared to be poised to win, but mistakes caused her to be downgraded on some jumps, leaving her third in the free skate. Sebestyen, the 2004 European champion, won the free skate and took the title ahead of Japan's Yukari Nakano. "I knew I had to go out there and do a really good program," Hughes said, "There are a lot of things I could have done better. "Coming into the program, I had really great practices and I had a really great warmup," she said. "In the program I felt a little shaky and tried to go for the jumps, but some of them weren't really there." Hughes stumbled on a triple flip and had trouble with some other jumps that caused the judges to value them lower. Sebestyen won the 2004 Europeans in her hometown of Budapest, but has dropped off since then, finishing just 22nd in the 2006 world championships. "Maybe there was too much pressure. In March, after the Olympics, I changed coaches and we worked together, and my jumps are better and I like my programs," Sebestyen said. "And now maybe I am skating more relaxed and with not so much pressure." Sebestyen showed better jumps in scoring heavily on two big combinations, which gain high points under the new judging system. She was 18th at the Olympics, but has now beaten Hughes, who was seventh at Turin as a late replacement for Michelle Kwan. The Cup of China is the third of the International Skating Union's Grand Prix series. The top six scorers in the six events qualify for the Grand Prix final in St. Petersburg, Russia next month. The next event is the Trophee Bompard next week in Paris.