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Controversy dogs Russian ice dancers

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia skate in the compulsory dance. (George Bridges / MCT)
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia skate in the compulsory dance. (George Bridges / MCT)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Throw another Russian on the barbie, mate. It's ice dancing time.The event Sunday night is original dance, and the skaters were told to come up with something around a theme of country-folk.

And that's where world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia may have been watching too many "Crocodile Dundee" reruns.

Their original dance is alleged to be an Australian aboriginal dance, performed in outfits that include red loincloths, dangling eucalyptus leaves and painted dark brown leotards.

When Domnina and Shabalin unveiled the new outfits at the Russian championships in December, aboriginal elders in Australia cried foul, calling the routine, "Cultural theft."

The Russians were staggered by the criticism. Domnina and Shabalin said they did their research and they only wanted to honor the culture and heritage of the Aboriginal people, not make light of it.

"We just wanted to do something different," Shabalin said.

The couple isn't saying whether they will bow to public pressure and wear something different Sunday night.

"You will see on the day," Shabalin promised.

The controversy comes on the heels of Russian silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko's complaint that he was scored unfairly in the men's skating competition.

CHRISTMAS IN VANCOUVER

The guy trading Olympic pins turned out to be from Texas, too.

If you know the name Ron Isbell, you're probably an avid runner or a veteran of the Cowtown Marathon.

Isbell has finished in the top 10 of the Fort Worth race six times. He once finished as high as fourth.

By day, he works in the accounting department at Lockheed Martin. But every two years, he packs his bags and his trading memorabilia, and he heads for the Olympic Games.

This is Isbell's eighth Olympics to attend. His first was the Calgary Winter Games in 1988, a trip-of-a-lifetime that he won in a Fort Worth radio station contest.

But it turned out not to be the trip-of-a-lifetime, after all.

Isbell pays his own way these days. When I ran into him Friday he was enjoying his first day in Vancouver without attending an event — eight events in seven days.

His Olympics started with the help of an angel.

"My opening ceremonies ticket that I bought on e-Bay for $390 never arrived," Isbell explained. "The ticket cost $900 through sellers in the U.S."

Isbell said he spent three hours at the downtown Vancouver post office on Friday, the day of the Opening Ceremony. The postal tracking number could only tell him that it had left San Francisco on Wednesday — nothing more.

Isbell decided to post himself at the entrance to the Opening Ceremony venue two hours before the start. He carried a sign that he had made by hand:

My Ticket Was Lost in the Mail

USPS.com Tracking

Number EH930793612US

Please help!

"I also had the pictures of me running in the 2002 Olympic Torch relay," he said. "It was raining off and on the whole time.

"After about 20 minutes, a guy walked by and said he felt sorry for me and said, 'I can't give you a ticket, but here's $20 to help out.' I thanked him and took it. I watched thousands of people go in. About three people offered tickets but wanted $1,000 for the ones that cost $1,100.

"After 90 minutes, a Russian TV crew started to interview and film me, asking about my dilemma. People were gathering around.

"Just then, a woman with five small children and three others walked up and gave me an eleven-hundred-dollar ticket, the most expensive. She said she didn't want any money for it. The ticket originally cost $1,400 in the U.S. through the authorized ticket outlet.

"The TV crew was still filming and able to get my reaction as she handed me the ticket. I thanked her over and over, and we took pictures with each other near the entrance. They were from Portugal, but live in Arizona now. I sat with them for the opening ceremonies and the seats were much better than the one I bought. I gave the children some Olympic pins that I had brought for trading."

Isbell thinks it's one of the best Olympic stories ever.

It's hard to argue.

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