Israelis stumble in first program

Chait slips in compulsory dance as she and Sakhnovsky place 13th.

Friday night marked a disappointing start to the Israeli journey at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Israel's top ice dance couple, Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky, finished the first program of the competition, the compulsory dance, in 13th, after Galit fell during their performance. "I don't know what happened there," she said after they saw their scores. "It never happened to me before." The fall, which caused a 1.00-point deduction, combined with a low technical mark to give the Israeli pair a score of 31.07 points - more than nine points off their personal best. In one of the most fascinating evenings of compulsories, it was just the last of a long list of surprises. The biggest shock was the Italian couple, Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, who had the best score Friday night and are competing in their first international competition since their retirement three years ago. They finished 0.58 points ahead of the gold medal favorites, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. "We did our best," said Navka. But their best wasn't enough to beat the home favorites in the first of three ice dance programs. "We didn't really expect this," a surprised Fusar-Poli said. "if someone asked me before the competition if we could be first, I would have said no. Now I think we can win this. "We didn't come back for the results. It is the first time in our long career that we get to skate in our country. If the Olympics would have been in another country, we wouldn't have came back." Fusar-Poli wasn't the only athlete in shock. "I'm surprised to see that they are first, I didn't expect this," said Gwendal Peizerat of France, who won the ice dance gold at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. "I was watching the scores coming up with the Bulgarian team and they were as surprised, too." The Bulgarian team, Albena Denkova and Maxim Stavisky, who skipped last month's European championships, was in third, while the European silver medalists, Elena Grushina and Ruslan Guncharov, are currently in fifth. Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, the bronze medal winners at the Euros, are in eighth. The American duo of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who won silver at last year's world championships are in sixth place, while another surprise was the top Canadian team, Marie-Franace Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who managing to snatch the fourth position. Less than four points separate the top eight couples, which promises that Sunday night's second program, the original dance, will be just as exciting as the compulsories. While the sport's giants jockeyed for position at the top, the brother and sister Israeli team, Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky, launch a battle of their own at the bottom. The youngsters finished 24th and last, much to the dismay of the local crowd, which encouraged the Israelis throughout their performance and strenuously expressed its displeasure at their score. "I was really excited, even as we stepped on the ice," said Roman afterwards. "Alexandra was relaxed at the time, but I calmed down only when we started skating. The crowd here is amazing, I couldn't help smiling when I heard them." "We can still move up," he added. "At the Europeans, we finished below two teams who are currently right above us, and we ended up moving above them after the original and the free dance." "The fact that we're here is already a success for us," he continued, "we're alright with the result and we'll show everyone what we can do. We're doing it for us, not for the placing." Chait and Sakhnovsky were eager to put the compulsory dance behind them and try to move up the standings at Sunday night's original dance, a Latin combination, and Monday's free dance, the third and final program. "We'll start a new chapter now," Chait said. "Monday is probably going to be our last competitive skate, although we still don't know for sure, and we want to present ourselves well, not for the placing. We will skate our programs like in a show." She even managed to joke about the compulsory a bit when she noted that the first thing she'll work on the original and the free dance will be to try "to stay on my feet." "We're ok," said a disappointed Sakhnovksy. "I mean, it's bad, but we're ok. We're still skating." In the original dance, the Zaretskys will skate first in the second of five groups, while Chait and Sakhnovsky will skate fifth in the third group.