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German pairs grab early lead

ALIONA Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won the pairs short program at the World Figure Skating Champions in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, sprinting ahead of the field with a fast-paced, entertaining performance.

The European champions finished with 72.30 points, easily outpacing Russia's Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov (68.94). Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China are third with 67.42.

Skating last to the theme of Lost in Space, their high-octane program was the polar opposite of the lyrical, elegant performances of the Russian and Chinese. They raced around the rink at a frenetic pace that made the audience tired just watching them, yet every single one of their elements was done with perfection.

Their triple twist was fantastic, and their throw triple flip was huge yet she landed it effortlessly. Their side-by-side triple toes were so fast they looked more like stones skipping across the water, off to yet another element.

The only drawback was that half of the arena had already left by the time they took the ice at 11pm local time.

Kawaguchi and Smirnov look as if they're ready to revive Russia's long tradition of excellence in pairs skating. A Russian or Soviet couple has stood atop the podium at every Olympics dating to 1964, but the program has fallen on hard times lately with just one medal - a bronze - at the last three world championships.

Kawaguchi looked surprised when their marks were posted and they were in first place with only the Germans left to skate.

Skating to "The Swan," Kawaguchi and Smirnov displayed the smoothness and elegance that have made Russian pairs so lovely to watch. They had exquisite detail, finishing every element right down to the tips of their fingers, and the landings on their throw triple loop was solid.

Earlier, Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin won the compulsory dance to take the lead in the ice dance competition. Their sharp and aggressive paso doble earned them 40.77 points.

Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are second with 39.65 points. Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the reigning world silver medalists, are third.

"This is a great dance to start the competition off because we're fighting," Belbin said. "We had to fight these last few months to get through Ben's injury, we had to fight last season. ... It's only the beginning. We want even more for the original dance and the free dance."


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