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U.S. ice dancers third, fourth after opening round

Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto of the United States skate in the compulsory dance. (George Bridges / MCT)
Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto of the United States skate in the compulsory dance. (George Bridges / MCT)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Compulsory ice dance is the figure skating version of watching paint dry for the three hours the event took Friday.

And, while everyone is bored to tears, the real action is taking place behind the scenes.

Despite the best efforts to reform the skating discipline that long has had the most controversial judging, the suspicion that the results are pre-arranged cannot be eliminated.

Even the choice of which dance style would be used for the 2010 Olympic compulsories — golden waltz or tango romantica — raised eyebrows.

Two young Canadian ice dancers pulled the tango out of the proverbial hat in a blind draw Feb. 6. But conspiracy theorists point to reports that the four people who witnessed it included a Russian judge, a Russian skating team leader, a Vancouver organizing committee official and International Skating Union technical delegate Peter Krick.

The feeling was the tango favored reigning world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia by putting less pressure on Shabalin's bum knee.

Krick reacted indignantly to that suggestion.

"We are open. We are honest," Krick told CanWest newspapers. "We would like to show to everyone what the draw is and the little kids are the last to cheat. The little kids, definitely they do not do anything (wrong)."

Truth be told, the greater pressure might be on the judges in the wake of Russia's anger over Evgeny Plushenko's loss in the men's singles competition Thursday and the Russian failure to win a pairs gold medal for the first time since 1960. This time, no Russian pair won any medal.

If the judges feel they need to favor Domnina and Shabalin, no one will be the wiser, but one or both of the top two U.S. teams may be the victims.

There also is a sense the judges may want to make sure Canada gets a figure skating medal before inconsistent Joannie Rochette begins the women's competition Tuesday.

So the confidence Meryl Davis expressed about the opportunity for she and partner Charlie White to become the first U.S. couple to win an Olympic dance title may be misplaced.

"We know that gold is within our reach," Davis said. "We know that if we go out and skate our best, we have just as good a chance as anyone else."

Although Domnina and Shabalin won the compulsory dance with 43.76 points, reigning Grand Prix Final and U.S. champions Davis and White remained within reach after getting a season best 41.47.

But, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, two-time world medalists, unsurprisingly were slipped into second place with 42.74.

U.S. dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists, also had a season best 40.83 to take fourth.

The original dance is Sunday and free dance final Monday.

"I think the pressure is on the judges to make sure they judge fairly," White said.

This likely will be the last time dance compulsories appear in the Olympics, as the ISU is expected to vote at its 2010 Congress to turn dance into a two-phase event.

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