Russia steps up to second

JIM CRESSMAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:22 AM ET

Irina Iakovleva had never seen synchronized skating 12 years ago.

Then one day the director of the figure skating school where she taught in St. Petersburg, Russia, suggested she start a team.

"I went to the Russian championships, but it was not popular then. It was five years before other cities began to develop it," Iakovleva said last night.

The Russians for years have produced world champion figure skaters in singles, pairs and ice dance, but the concept of 16 skaters on the ice at one time was still quite foreign.

Iakovleva, herself a former singles competitor, had skated 24 years with the St. Petersburg Ballet on Ice and knew about team skating, so she decided to give it a go.

It's been a long battle, trying to convince young Russians this is a viable alternative, but Russia, which hasn't won a medal at the first seven International Skating Union world championship, has finally arrived.

Russia 1 (Paradise), coached by Iakovleva, was second in the short program last night before a soldout crowd of 6,462 at the John Labatt Centre.

"I think we even surprised ourselves. Like wow, this is cool," Russian skater Alisa Lisovskaya said.

Sweden 1 was first (77.54 points), followed by Russia 1 (70.55) and U.S.A. 2 (96.75).

Finland 2 is fourth (68.93), Canada 1 fifth (68.54). Canada 2 is seventh (66.38).

Finland and Sweden have always won world titles, with Sweden collecting four gold medals and Finland three. Those two have won all the medals the last three years.

Canada's best showing was a silver in 2000, the first year for worlds. Canada's last medal was bronze in 2003.

Russia's best result was fifth last year in Prague. Iakovleva said that helped grow the sport and there are now four senior, 10 junior and 10 novice teams (about 430 skaters) in her country. But that still pales in comparison to the numbers in the countries that have embraced the sport.

"It's becoming more popular because of the success of this team," she said. "It's our dream of course to win a medal."

There are 21 teams representing 16 nations at these worlds.

"The sport was young and it took a while for it to get going," said 19-year-old Londoner Allison Proudfoot, who skates with Canada 1, Nexxice, that trains in Burlington and Waterloo.

Canada 1 skated first last night, something not usually relished in skating because the judges had nothing to which to compare the performance.

But that may be changing with the introduction of the new scoring system.

"Going first in the old school would have probably upset the entire team, but now with the new judging system, they were more confident going first," said Canada 1 coach Shelley Barnett.

"There was a lot of pressure coming in, a lot of excitement, and I think they did very well handling that. They're going to use this experience and build on it (for today's free skate)."

Proudfoot said they fed off the emotion of the pro-Canada crowd.

"We were really happy with our draw. We're Team Canada 1 and the first team to open up the championship. Normally teams don't like to skate first, but we were really happy.

"I'm very proud of my city and how the people have reacted to this. They're really welcomed the teams."

Canada 1 skated to The Righteous Brothers singing Unchained Melody. When it was suggested to Proudfoot the song may have a hidden meaning that Canada will finally unchain the medals from the Finns and Swedes, she replied: "Maybe."

But that task might be left to the Russians.


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