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WORLD SPORT

Bulgarian duo win world dance gold

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The Bulgarian duo produly display their first golds after 10 years of trying

CALGARY, Canada -- Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski's have won the ice dance gold medal at the world figure skating championships in Calgary - their first major title.

Partners since 1996, the pair had featured on the podium at European and world championships but had never made it to the top step until this unexpected victory.

Leaders after the compulsory and original dance, the Bulgarians only produced the third best free skate but it was just enough to see off home favorites Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.

Denkova and Staviski posted a winning total of 199.14 points, fractionally ahead of the Canadians on 198.69.

Olympic silver medallists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto of the U.S. completed the podium, taking the bronze with 196.74.

With Olympic champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov of Russia deciding not to take part, Belbin and Agosto were tipped to earn the U.S. their first ever world championship dance title.

But a shock fourth place in the original dance left the charismatic Americans in a hole they could not climb out of.

In a throwback to the bad old days of figure skating, talk circulating around the Saddledome following the original dance -- some of it coming from Belbin and Agosto's coaches -- was that the Americans had yet to pay their dues so were marked down.

Certainly no one could claim Denkova and Staviski have had not earned their moment in the spotlight.

Twice the couple finished runners-up at the European championships and they took bronze (2003) and silver (2004) at the world championships.

"I cannot believe we are finally world champions," said Denkova. "We have been waiting for this moment for such a long time.

"We worked very hard this season and all the years for this.

"We skated well at the Olympics and we are pleased this time the decision of the judges they looked differently on us and our programs.

"We didn't change anything from the Olympics."

For Dubreuil and Lauzon it was a chance to perform the free skate they never had a chance to at the Olympics an it was nearly enough to secure a gold medal.

The Canadians had been forced to withdraw after the original dance in Torino when Dubreuil lost her grip on Lauzon's arm during a lift and came crashing to the ice bringing their Olympic participation to an end.

Skating last and in front of a raucous home crowd Dubreuil and Lauzon delivered a brilliant and elegant free skate that earned top marks and a thunderous standing ovation as the couple embraced in the centre of the ice, soaking up every moment of what might be their final competition.

"Four weeks ago I was in a wheelchair in Italy," said an emotional Dubreuil. "We did not skate for two weeks but we made it.

"The way we skated tonight was memorable because the last four weeks were so hard. All the emotion we had bottled up came out at that final moment. We didn't want to leave the ice."

Cohen leads way

Meanwhile, Sasha Cohen powered back into gold medal contention with a dazzling short program that vaulted her into first place in the women's competition.

After a disappointing display in qualifying left her fifth, the 21-year-old American rebounded in style with a short program that earned top marks and put her in the lead with 94.21 points.

The Olympic silver medallist will carry a comfortable cushion over Japan's Fumie Suguri (90.59) into Saturday's free skate. Sixteen-year-old American Kimmie Meissner (88.63) is third.

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