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Russian figure skaters back to their best

The Russian pair of Tatyana Totmyanina and Maksim Marinin had arrived in Turin as the clear favourites. They had won the European title five times in a row and also been world champions in 2004-5. Few doubted that they had momentum on their side.

But they had had to overcome some adversity. Two years previously, while competing in America, the pair had lost their balance during a difficult lift and Totmyanina had fallen face-first to the ice.

She was knocked unconscious for several minutes and was not allowed to return to the ice for ten days. Even then, she had no memory of the fall, but once the physical injuries had healed, the pair were back to their best.

While they were clearly better than any of their European rivals, there was a serious challenge awaiting them, and it came from the Chinese, now emerging as a skating superpower. Three different Chinese pairs had been at the forefront of world competition, and each could challenge for victory in Turin.

Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo had won the world title in 2002-03, while Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao had finished third at the world championships in 2005. Both would push the Russians hard, as they had done often in the years between the Salt Lake City and Turin Games.

The short programme saw the Russians take the lead with a score of 68.64. Zhang and Zhang were four points behind them in second place. Zhao and Shen were down in fifth place, though, after a disappointing routine.

It was in the free programme that the Russians showed the panache, confidence and style that was to take them to gold. Dancing to Romeo and Juliet, they produced a near-flawless routine to earn more than 135 points, a new personal best for the pair. For Zhang and Zhang to beat that would take something truly extraordinary.

Their chance disappeared when Zhang Dan suffered a bad fall attempting a quadruple Salchow. They were to still finish second while Shen and Zhao also staged a comeback, producing a free programme that was good enough to propel them to the third step of the podium. The Russian dancers had won, but the Chinese had made an emphatic point.

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