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WORLD SPORT

Icy stare caps night of stumbles

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Fusar Poli and Margaglio in a face-off worthy of a hockey match.

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Winter Olympics
Ice Dancing

TORINO, Italy -- If looks could kill, Italy's Maurizio Margaglio would be in serious trouble.

He and partner Barbara Fusar Poli were leading the ice dancing going into the original dance section, having scored well -- surprisingly well, some observers said -- in the compulsory section of the event.

The local favorites returned from retirement to compete in front of their home crowd after taking bronze at the Salt Lake City Games, and looked to be in contention for a return to the podium as they neared the end of their original routine.

Then things went horribly wrong.

On the last lift of their routine, Fusar Poli seemed to move a little out of position. Margaglio lost his balance and both skaters went tumbling over.

They regained their feet, but there was to be none of the traditional hugging and fixed smiles that are meant to follow a fall. Instead, they squared off, glaring at each other for several seconds.

Fusar Poli's stare was colder than the ice she had so recently been in close contact with, while Margaglio's seemed to pre-emptively reject any idea his partner might be forming that he would accept total blame for the mistake.

It was a scene that played out in near total silence, the adoring home crowd's chants of "Italia! Italia!" having fallen away as quickly as their pair's medal chances.

Then, eventually, the face-off was broken as the skaters turned to the judges and briefly smiled before leaving the ice. Fusar Poli broke down even before the judges' marks showed they had slipped to seventh place.

The second-ranked Italian pair also fell, as did the Lithuanians, when Margarita Drobiazko slipped in a step move and dragged Povilas Vanagas to the ice with her.

"You never know why it happens, it just happens," she said afterwards.

'Safer' sport

It is not meant to. Ice dancing is considered the safer of the figure skating disciplines as skaters are not allowed to perform the jumps that regularly see them come to grief in other events.

But try telling that to Canada's Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, whose fall was by far the heaviest of all.

Dubreuil was in a split position with both hands on Lauzon's arm when their grips slipped and she fell heavily on her right hip and knee. They finished they program, then Dubreuil doubled over in pain and had to be carried off the ice by her partner.

"That never happened so far for a dance lift," Lauzon said. "Perhaps there was too much force in the rotation. I just hope Marie's fine."

Almost as painful, perhaps, was the two-point penalty the error incurred that sent them from fourth place to sixth place.

The falls, so widespread and so inexplicable at this level, allowed the Russian pair of Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov to storm to the lead, with the free dance still to skate.

"Today, a lot of couples fell. I think it's mental problems," Navka said after the program. "These are the Olympics, there's a lot of pressure."

The calamity was of such proportions that even an American couple are within grasp of a medal. It has been 30 years since a U.S. pair took a medal in ice dancing, but Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto were in second place after the original section.

Their routine, while not perfect, was confident and sizzling with pulsating passion. Their ability to stay on their feet did not hurt either.

Skating last, they were unfazed by what had gone before them.

"We didn't really know what happened, but we could hear oohs and aahs, so you know something happened," Belbin said.

"But you have to block it out. That's why we don't watch, because when you see it visually, it can affect you."

The falls diverted attention from the usual highlight of the sport for the uninitiated: the dazzling fashions that only dare present themselves on ice.

There was plenty on display to challenge generally accepted sartorial sense, from Navka's blue and brown leopard print number with accompanying headband to Israeli skater Galit Chait's ensemble of a backless pink top cascading into a white feathered puffball.

"I think it's good to have slinky outfits. If you have the body, why not show it?" Chait said.

Sergei Sakhnovski, her partner, was less impressed: "I call it 'chicken feather'," he said.

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