Veteran Italian pair start with surprise

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TURIN, Italy -- It was so overwhelming, Italians Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio couldn't help but cry when they saw the marks from the judges.

The pair came out of retirement to compete in last night's Olympic compulsory dance, and it was well worth it. The Italians finished first in the compulsory, which kicks off the three-day competition, after an inspired performance to the Ravensburger waltz.

The 2002 bronze medalists received full support from the pro-Italian audience. The crowd chanted, "Italia! Italia" when the pair's routine was complete.

"I wanted to scream with them," Margaglio said.

The Russian pair of TatianaNavka and Roman Kostomarov, the world and European champions, placed second. They trail the Italians by just .58 of a point.

Bulgarians Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski were third.

U.S. skaters did not fare so well in the compulsory. America's top finishers last night were Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, in sixth place.

Belbin and Agosto are considered the U.S.'s best chance to medal. They finished second in the 2005 world championships. They are just 1.42 points out of first place, but will have to fight through a cluster of pairs that also are within striking distance.

"I think we're still close enough to challenge for a podium spot," Belbin said. "We're quite competitive in the other dances."

Americans Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov were among the top three briefly, but fell to 15th. Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O'Meara finished 18th.

Jemele Hill writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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