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Sale, Pelletier deliver Canada's KO punch

Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Date: December 12, 2004
Author: Laurie Nealin

CHEERED on by boisterous, flag-waving fans, Team Canada clinched its second consecutive World Team Challenge win ahead of Russia, the United States and Europe late Friday night at the MTS Centre. In a four-hour marathon of professional figure skating competition, four-time world champ Kurt Browning, six-time national champion Jennifer Robinson and golden Olympic pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier scored a decisive victory, amassing 443.1 points in total ahead of Team Russia, who tallied 438.9.

"David and Jamie are such a solid base, they're so confident and so strong, and Jennifer's turned into a wonderful professional skater. She's casual backstage and then goes out and puts it out there," Browning said. "I was just riding the wave that they started."

Browning, Sale and Pelletier also emerged victorious at the inaugural WTC last year in Vancouver thanks to a stellar showing by teammate Josee Chouinard, who is due to give birth to twins in January. p>This time around, Robinson ranked first among the women, overtaking 1994 Olympic champion Oksana Baiul of Ukraine.

"Everything went really smoothly," said Robinson, who retired from the Olympic-eligible stream last spring and made her professional debut here Friday. "I really like the team concept with points and having your teammates out there (to cheer you on) is very cool."

The World Team Challenge, Canada's only pro competition, boasts a unique format with one man, woman and pair competing as a team. Points earned by each team member for their technical and artistic performances are added to determine the winning team. The event was judged by a panel of five former world medallists. Baiul, in the second season of her self-styled comeback from a rocky period in her post-Olympics life, said, "It feels great to be back, to be able to do the triple Lutz. The last season I did that was really the year of the Olympic Games.

"I am a very competitive person, especially within myself. I don't really care for placings, I care for what I achieved here."

Sale and Pelletier, who lifted the crowd from their seats with two dynamic performances set to Radar Love and Over the Rainbow, edged Russia's Olympic co-gold medallists, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, for top honours in the pairs event.

Browning, however, was unable to hold top spot on the men's leaderboard despite his flawless Time in a Bottle technical program and a strong second skate. In round one, Browning tied 2002 Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin, 24, who delighted the crowd with an inspired replay of his signature program, Winter, which earned him gold in Salt Lake.

When Yagudin pulled two triple-triple jump combinations out of his bag of tricks in the final skate, the judges gave the nod to the Russian.

"I was ecstatic about the first one (program)," said Browning. "It was a program that you're not allowed to make any mistakes. The music is pristine, the movements are pristine, clear and open, so to try a triple-triple and do a triple loop, I was like 'What am I doing?' " The WTC is one of only two professional events world-wide, a fact lamented by many of the skaters and event judging referee Kerry Leitch, a veteran pairs coach.

"I'd like to see a professional circuit with prize money, something like professional golf's Champions Tour," said Leitch, noting at least five, annual pro competitions, including the prestigious World Pro Championships, had been the norm in the 1990s.

Yagudin, who dominated both pro events this season, said, "As soon as there are more, I will be doing them because I love to compete, I love that feeling on the ice."