Duchesnays win over crowd, if not judges, in compulsories


ALBERTVILLE, France -- She wore a high-cut black dress with a black halter top over a glittery, blue strapless bikini bra. He was a picture of black and white.

She appeared nervous. He was steady.

They performed the conservative steps with grace and ease. And when they finished, the crowd erupted, showering the ice with flowers.

Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France made their debut at the Winter Olympics last night.

In the ice dancing compulsories, worth 20 percent of the overall score, the Duchesnays finished third. Ahead of them, were two Unified Team couples, who performed with typical Soviet stylishness.

Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko led after the two compulsory dances to a paso doble and a polka. Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin were second.

But this wasn't about placement. It was about star power.

The Duchesnays, a sister and a brother who were raised in Canada and now train in Germany, lured a sellout crowd of 9,000 to the Olympic ice skating arena.

"We were a little surprised to see so many peope," Paul Duchesnay said. "It was very exciting."

The night was also nerve-racking for the 19 couples who performed the same well-timed steps in each of the dances.

"The compulsories can be difficult because sometimes you just want to get them out of the way," said Russ Witherby, who along with partner April Sargent Thomas, emerged as the top U.S. couple, in 10th place.

"If you don't do the compulsories well, it can hurt you for the rest of the competition," Witherby said.

Rachel Mayer and Peter Breen, the other American entry, were 14th.

But clearly, the medal contenders have been established. The two Unified Team couples and the Duchesnays will battle for gold, silver and bronze during the next phases of competition, tomorrow's original dance and Monday's free dance.

"It was great fun," Paul Duchesnay said. "It is unsual for us, for ice dancers, to have such crowd support in the compulsories."

But the crowd came to see the Duchesnays, the ice dancing heroes of France.

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