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Culture news, 19.12.2006 21:17

Joubert and Kim triumph in St Petersburg

Brian Joubert France's Brian Joubert won his first Grand Prix final on Saturday to establish himself as the top contender for next month's European championship crown.

South Korean teenager Kim Yu-na upset the favourites to win the women's title for her maiden victory.

Former world champions Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China signalled their return to the top by winning the pairs, while Bulgaria's world champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski of came from behind to clinch the ice dance gold.

With Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko taking a year off following his triumph in Turin and world title holder Stephane Lambiel failing to qualify for the final, Joubert outclassed the injury-hit field despite an error-riddled free programme.

The 2004 European champion first put a hand to the ice on his opening quadruple toeloop, then tripled his next quad and finally fell on another attempted quadruple jump.

The Frenchman still scored an impressive 233.46 points to beat an ailing Daisuke Takahashi by almost nine points, with fellow Japanese Nobunari Oda finishing third with 216.86.

"I'm happy that I've won but it was very, very difficult," said Joubert.

VERY TIRED

"I had four competitions in five weeks and I was very tired today. But it was very important for me to try the quads because this competition is simply a good preparation for the European and world championships."

The field was reduced to just four skaters after American champion Johnny Weir joined compatriot Evan Lysacek on the sidelines following a hip injury.

Kim, making her senior debut this season after winning the world junior title in March, beat defending champion and fellow 16-year-old Mao Asada by almost 12 points while another Japanese, Miki Ando, slipped from second to fifth after a terrible free skate.

"The Japanese skaters are very strong... (so) this is a great result for me. I still can't believe it," said the Korean.

Asada, who was too young to compete at this year's Turin Olympics, was the favourite after posting the highest score in women's figure skating to win in Nagano two weeks ago.

She led after Friday's short programme but crashed to the ice twice during the free skate.

"I'm disappointed that I couldn't skate as well as I was hoping for," said Asada.

Ando singled four of her six triple jumps and her routine unravelled as she performed only two triples.

Swiss Sarah Meier took advantage of Ando's misfortunes to move from fourth to third.

Shen and Zhao completed a clean, if not spectacular, free programme to earn 203.19 points, just short of their best score when they won the final two years ago in Beijing.

"We had a disappointing Olympics when I was struggling with my ankle injury, so we were really determined to do well this season and finish our skating career on top," Zhao said.

Shen and Zhao, who were third in Turin, beat Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy by more than 22 points, with another Chinese couple, Olympic silver medallists Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, dropping from second to third.

American champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, who were third after Friday's short programme, slipped to fourth, with Russia's former world and European champions Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov finishing last.

In the ice dance, Denkova and Staviski overtook Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who were leading after Friday's original dance, when Dubreuil lost her balance while performing a tricky twizzle sequence on Saturday.

"For sure that wasn't our best performance of the season," Dubreuil said. "It was hard to find the energy today."

Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin finished third with their best showing in major international competition.

News source: in.today.reuters.com

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