Marcoux, Buntin enjoy lift

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

CALGARY -- The medal will have to wait for another day.

But Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin aren't exactly going home empty-handed from a world figure skating championships that just might be their springboard to greatness.

The three-time Canadian champions turned in their finest result in three tries at the worlds, finishing fifth after the pairs skating was done last night at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

It was a drop of one place from their standing after Monday's short program, but a major leap from the ninth-place finish Marcoux and Buntin earned at the last two worlds.

Just three weeks ago, they were 11th at the Turin Olympics.

'A BIG STEP'

"A big step, a very big one," said Richard Gauthier, the pair's coach in St. Leonard, Que.

How big? Marcoux and Buntin got themselves into the final flight at worlds for the first time and missed the podium by only 5.13 points. Finally, after four years of slugging away, they can see themselves with a real shot at the big prize.

"We've taken a step into the top group now," said Buntin, 25, of Kelowna, B.C. "To come out fourth after the short program, in your home country in the final flight at a world championships ... we really learned a lot this time and I think we're going to be much better skaters down the road."

They maintained the medal was secondary -- for now.

"All the media was saying 'You're so close to a medal,' " said Gauthier. "But they told me (Tuesday) 'We don't care about the medal, we came here to skate our best.' "

Their free skate wasn't perfect, but it was a major step forward from Turin. Marcoux grinned while talking about a rock-solid landing on their final throw-triple Salchow -- an element she agonized over after blowing the landing in Italy.

"I knew I was not going down (last night)," said Marcoux, 25, of Gatineau. "I promised that one to myself. I knew that no matter what happened, I was going to land it on one foot."

Their free skate score was a personal-best 118.43, but not quite enough to reel in Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, the veteran Russians who skated brilliantly in what was likely their final worlds appearance. The Canadians finished with a two-program total of 181.09, the Russians 186.22 for the bronze.

CHINESE 1-2 ON PODIUM

China grabbed the top two spots on the podium, with Qing Pang and Jian Tong winning the free skate and their first world title with a 189.22 total.

Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang were next (186.22), while Marcoux and Buntin slid behind the fourth-place Americans Rene Inoue and John Baldwin (183.17).

Canada's No. 2 team, Jessica Dube of St. Cyrille de Wendover, Que., and Bryce Davison of Cambridge, placed seventh.

Add up the Canadian results and it means three pairs teams will wear the red and white at next year's worlds in Tokyo -- the first time that's happened since 2002.

"For us to qualify three teams for our country is huge," said Buntin. "I'm extremely proud of ourselves and of them right now."

He believes it's the first step toward the country getting back on the Olympic pairs podium in 2010.

"I think there's going to be a lot of maple syrup in Vancouver," said Buntin. "Look at where we were in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and look at where we are right now. If we keep improving like that over the next four years, it's got medal written all over it."

Dube and Davison couldn't have been happier with their worlds debut.

"We finished the season on a high with two personal bests," said Davison. "I don't think we could have asked for anything more."


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