Three's company

ANGELA MACISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Thanks to the Canadian pairs, they'll have more company next year. With two top-10 finishes, Canada can send three couples to the world figure skating championships in Tokyo.

Craig Buntin and Valerie Marcoux finished fifth after last night's free skate, while Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, competing at their first worlds, were seventh.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong improved upon their fourth place finish at the Olympics last month, by winning the title and dropping Turin silver medallists and Chinese teammates Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang to second.

Russian pairs Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov were third.

"It's not like either of us are superstar pair skaters yet," said Buntin, a native of Kelowna who moved east to find a partner. "But for us to come together and qualify three times is huge. I'm extremely proud of us and of them tonight."

The last time Canada qualified three pairs was in 2002, when Jamie Sale and David Pelletier won the world title.

Buntin said Dube and Davison are pushing him and Marcoux to be better.

"It's starting and you can feel it," Buntin said. "The next Canadian championships are going to be a dogfight and we're really looking forward to it."

Buntin touched down between jumps on the triple toe-double toe combo, while Marcoux singled on the side-by-side double Axel. But the couple's stunning Axel lasso lift drew gasps of delight from the crowd and they nailed their last element, the throw triple Salchow, which Marcoux didn't land in Turin. The pair scored a personal-best 118.43 points for a 181.09 total with the short program.

"What better way to end the season," said Marcoux, remembering the disappointment she felt after their 11th-place result in Turin.

Dube popped her triple Salchow, the only flaw in a solid performance by the rookies.

"It was just a lack of concentration," she said. "I wasn't really there at the moment. I know I can do it so I will do it next year."

The couple, which finished 10th at Olympics, hit a personal-best 110.91 for their free skate and a total of 169.72.

Pang and Tong were beaming after their victory skate.

"I'm still in the mood of happiness," said Tong through a translator. "This is our first time standing on the highest podium."

Dan Zhang, who didn't participate in the medal-ceremony skate, sat in stunned silence. She and Hao Zhang had a disastrous free skate during which she doubled a triple Salchow and he fell.

It was the first time Hao Zhang had fallen in international competition this season.

"I cannot tell you the feeling," he said. "The long program, the body needs more energy. In the latter half of our long program, we made mistakes. It's because of the body energy -- not enough."

As for the Russians, they may have skated for the last time as amateurs after Petrova injured her left ankle. Tikhonov said they'll likely turn pro and teach.


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