Canadians dance toward podium

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

CALGARY -- They held their collective breaths and didn't exhale -- with a thunderous roar -- until nearly three minutes later.

And that was just the audience of 6,800 on hand at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Imagine how Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon felt yesterday afternoon, the day of the original dance at the world figure skating championships.

The segment of the ice dance competition that so cruelly ended their Olympic dream in Turin a mere three weeks ago.

Yesterday, though, it was all good. Dubreuil, gripping her partner's arm firmly like never before, didn't fall this time on the couple's final rotational lift of their program. No painful whack on her right hip this day.

And with only one phase of the event left -- tomorrow's free dance -- the Canadians remain second and very much in position to claim their first world medal.

It might even be gold. With a two-program total of 98.12 points, Dubreuil and Lauzon are only a mere 1.28 behind Bulgaria's Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski. But the gap is slightly wider because the Bulgarians outscored Dubreuil and Lauzon 60.94-59.81 in yesterday's OD.

The Canadians' edge over third-place Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France, who placed second in the original dance, is an even slimmer 0.8 points. Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the Olympic silver medalists who were widely considered the pre-event favourites, are still fourth (97.24) but very much in the medal hunt.

Canada's No. 2 team, Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe of Vancouver, stayed in eighth spot after posting a personal-best score for their lively, well-skated original dance.

The story yesterday, though, as it has been all week, was the gutsy Dubreuil and her recovery from the painful deep bone bruise that knocked her out of the Turin Games.

There's no way Dubreuil could possibly forget.

"We've seen the accident (at the Olympics) so many times that it still goes on in my head," she said.

Everyone in the house knew it, too. The place fell silent before Dubreuil and Lauzon began to skate.

"It was the funniest thing," said Dubreuil, 31, of Montreal. "I think I felt the people stop breathing. That was like a quiet moment. I took the (starting) position and I started to laugh because there was not a sound.

"Then I smiled and I said, 'Forget about it, I'm not missing this.' "

MORE SECURE GRIP

That she didn't, thanks to a change in the rotational lift that gave Dubreuil the ability to maintain a more secure grip on her partner.

"The entry (to the lift) is a bit different, but it kind of looks the same," said Lauzon, 30, of Montreal.

No wonder, then, that the silence was deafening until Dubreuil was safely back on two feet for the finish.

"I held my breath -- for 21/2 minutes, not just at the end," said Steffany Hanlen, who coaches the couple with Muriel Zazoui.

But it has been obvious all week that the audience here clearly wants this couple that is so likeable, and so deserving to cap off their careers with some sort of medal, if this is indeed it this week.

"We heard people saying 'We love you, we're so happy you're back,' " said Dubreuil. "It makes us feel really supported, knowing that people only want the best for us."

So now it is on to the free dance, and Dubreuil and Lauzon's chance to wow the judges one last time with their ace, the critically acclaimed and much beloved Somewhere in Time program.

They'll close the show with it tomorrow -- the Canadians drew the final start position -- and it might well be their ticket to the country's first world gold in ice dance since Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz ruled above all in 2003.

But if it happens, it will have been the real knee-knocker, the tension-filled original dance, which paved the way for it all.

"This was the program I wanted this week," said Dubreuil. "We're really happy with that performance."

So were their many fans.

They can all breathe again.


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