BIRMINGHAM, England -- Romance collided with mathematics. And for a change, romance won.
That's the simplest way to explain how American pairs skaters Jenni Meno and Todd Sand found themselves on a victory platform last night with matching World Championship bronze medals draped around their necks.
"We never expected this," Meno said. "We were shocked."
But after a rival couple's fall and a judging panel's machinations, the Americans moved from a likely fifth-place finish to third. They shared a platform with gold medalists Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny of the Czech Republic and silver medalists Yevgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov of Russia.
"This really hasn't even sunk in yet," Meno said. "I don't think it will for a while."
But one thing Meno was certain about: The bronze medal was the best wedding present this soon-to-be-married couple ever could receive.
"I don't think we need anything else," she said.
Meno and Sand's rise from fifth after Tuesday's technical program to third in the free skate -- worth two-thirds of the overall score -- was triggered by the fall of Germany's Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer and the sport's complex scoring system.
To medal, the Americans had to finish at least one place ahead of Russians Marina Eltsova and Audrey Bushkov, fourth entering the free skate, and two places ahead of Woetzel and Steuer, second entering the free skate.
That's exactly what happened.
"I always tell my skaters, 'Never give up hope,' " said John Nicks, the coach who oversees Meno and Sand. "The Germans opened a door, and Meno and Sand ran through it."
They delivered the goods with mesmerizing choreography.
"The emotion was more here," Sand said. "We put our whole heart into it. Here, we let it all hang out. We weren't nearly as good from a technical standpoint as we were at the nationals. But we were better from an emotional standpoint."
"We skated for love," said Meno.
They not only ended a two-year American medal drought, but Sand also claimed his second pairs medal. In 1991, he earned a worlds bronze with Natasha Kuchiki.
Somehow, this finish was sweeter because it was so unexpected.
"Coming into the free skate fifth, we felt we were out of it," Sand said. "All we could do was do our job."
And then, all they could do was watch. Meno and Sand stood on a broadcast platform. They were dressed in sweats and running shoes, preparing to make a fifth-place concession speech. First, Woetzel and Steuer bobbled their program. Then, Eltsova and Bushkov closed the show and slipped into fourth.
"You never like to see people mess around and fall," Sand said. "Everyone has been there at least once. I know I have. It's not a pleasant experience."
Suddenly, the Americans had to make a quick change back into their outfits for a medal ceremony.
"Todd grabbed me and picked me up and I didn't think that he'd ever put me down," Meno said. "I felt like he would squeeze me to death."
Even an hour after the finish, the couple was still smiling, and still looking ahead. He's 31. She's 24. Skating fame is fleeting. Marriage, they say, is forever.
"Now that this is over," said Meno, "we can plan the wedding."