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WORLD SPORT

Italians hold shock ice dance lead

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Italians Fusar Poli and Margaglio thrilled the home crowd with their dance

TORINO, Italy -- World champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov were upstaged when Italians Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio returned from retirement to lead the ice dancing event.

The thrill of performing in Italy enticed Fusar Poli and Margaglio to compete and they gasped when their compulsory dance score of 38.78 flashed up.

However, the Russians are unlikely to panic just yet as they trail Fusar Poli and Margaglio by only 0.58 of a point after the first stage of the three-phase competition.

With 1.42 points separating the top six, the rankings could easily change under the new accumulative-points scoring system following Sunday's original dance.

Bulgarian duo Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski lie third.

Swaying across the ice, Fusar Poli and Margaglio impressed the judges with their deft footwork and intricate choreography to nose ahead of the favorites.

The duo floated through their Ravensburg Waltz routine and brought the roaring fans to their feet as soon as the strains of the music died out in the Palavela rink.

"When we skated out there, to be honest it was as if not a second had passed since Salt Lake City," said 2002 bronze-medallist Margaglio, whose only previous competition under the new scoring format had been at last month's Italian nationals.

"It was the same emotion, the same feeling but all magnified because we were skating in front of Italians."

Since ice dancing was introduced to the Olympic schedule in 1976, a Russian or Soviet couple has won the title every time except at the 1984 Games and in Salt Lake City four years ago.

Navka and Kostomarov are aiming to restore Russia's dominance in the event after France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat triumphed in 2002 but they will have their work cut out in what is turning out to be a closely fought contest.

They had initially glided to the top of the standings with a score of 38.20 before being outclassed by the Italians.

"We're very pleased with the way we skated, we enjoyed it out there," said Kostomarov, who had to fight back from third place following the compulsory to win their third European crown last month.

Navka added: "We really enjoyed the skate, people were very warm. There were lots of Russians out there and it was a nice clean compulsory."

Ukrainian husband-and-wife team Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov, second in Lyon last month, finished fifth, World silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto of the U.S. are sixth.

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