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Volosozhar & Trankov lead, Duhamel & Radford second after pair short program in London

LONDON, Ont. - Duhamel felt sick to her stomach all day on Wednesday at the world figure skating championships, emotionally stirred by the task at hand: their relentless year-long pursuit of winning a world championship medal, after finishing fifth at this event last year.

Despite it all, Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Radford of Balmertown, Ont., used all of the energy at their disposal to do something they've never done before - defeat three-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany. They did it in the short program, and there's still a steep hill to climb, but they find themselves in second place, behind only the exquisite Russians, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, two-time world silver medalists, and two-time European champions.

Canada's No. 2 team, Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto, used a different tactic to finish fifth in only their second appearance at a world championship, skating the performance of their lives to a standing ovation. Currently they sit fifth, skating with a relaxed ease.

Volosozhar and Trankov are in first place with their best short program of the year at 75.84 points, only about two points ahead of the Canadian champions at 73.61.

The Germans are in third place at 73.47, only .14 points behind Duhamel and Radford. Essentially, they are tied.

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch at 69.25, their season's best, are less than a point behind Russian veterans Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, two-time world bronze medalists, who are currently in fourth place.

With their emotional routine to La Boheme, Duhamel and Radford had the top technical score of the day, and that should be no surprise: They are the only pair skaters who attempt side-by-side triple Lutz jumps. They outscored the leading Russians technically (41.10 points to 39.70).

Not everybody in the rink agreed that the Russians were two points better than the Canadians on the day. Former men's skater Daniel Weiss told his German broadcast viewers that he thought the Canadians were the best. The Russians, he said, used music that did not ensnare him; he didn't think their performance as mesmerizing at the Canadians.

The trip to second place didn't come easily for Duhamel and Radford. "We were so nervous this morning," she said. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Our whole lives have been geared to being on the world podium.

Every single day has been put towards being on the podium here in London." Duhamel worried that her legs would fold like jelly whenever she tried a jump. Before she took to the ice, she felt as if she would collapse. "But as soon as the music started, we were in control, and at the first beat of the music, we felt great," she said.

They were also aware that skaters before them had skated well. They watched them. They knew that Moore-Towers and Moscovitch had bettered their season's best by about three points, and they'd have to beat that.

When Duhamel and Radford landed their triple Lutzes in the corner, Duhamel could see the faces of crowd members, opening their jaws in astonishment, gasping and cheering. She found it hard to focus. When Radford pulled her through his legs to go into the throw, they both had to take a moment to decide to focus, and focus hard.

They landed the throw triple lutzes to the roar of the crowd. Duhamel couldn't wipe the smile off her face for the rest of the routine. When they finished, Radford threw an arm into the air, and Duhamel jumped up and down on the ice.

Despite the emotional roller coaster, Duhamel said they've been "having a blast here.

"We've been loving every moment of this experience," she said. "The crowd was amazing from the time we stepped on the ice," Radford said. "Right up to the very end. You could feel the energy building. And then at the end, it just comes all together, and then a huge feeling of relief, just knowing that we did it."

Moscovitch said it was probably the most memorable skate of his career. "There were flags waving everywhere," he said.

It followed preparation that was ordered and organized and confidence building. "Today I had a good feeling all day," Moore-Towers said. "I knew we were ready and I just kept telling myself how easy it was and how many times we had done it before and just to have a lot of fun. I was just sort of remembering nationals and how much fun that was. And this was just going to be that multiplied by 1,000."

When Moore-Towers landed a whooshing throw triple loop, her face erupted in a wide smile. "I think that maybe I'm not supposed to portray that much excitement at the time," she mused. "But I couldn't help it." "After last year and not going to worlds, hats off to them," said coach Kris Wirtz. "To step back into the game after a year out, is not an easy thing. Usually it takes a bit of build. But they just came in, hit the hammer down and now they are right in there with the top people in the world."

Last year, Moore-Towers and Moscovitch missed the world championships after failing to qualify out of the national championships. They had been eighth the previous year. But this world championship on home turf was more than they imagined.

"When we stepped on the ice for our first practice, on Monday, we did our stroke around, I think we did a couple of jumps, and we went back to our coach and he said: "This is really special."

Moore-Towers hadn't really thought of it that way before, she said. And she found the audience louder and more appreciative than she expected. Savchenko and Szolkowy used the buzz of the audience to their advantage, but it wasn't quite enough. Skating after Moore-Towers and Moscovitch, Szolkowy thought at first he put his hands over his ears, but then changed his mind, preferring to use it to stir the soul.

"It was perfect," he said. "It ws so loud. I didn't see [the Canadians] but the points say they were good. And they were happy and the crowd was good and there was so much energy."

Still, even though the Germans earned a season's best mark, they didn't feel that it was their best effort. Something was missinjg. "It was the feelings," Szolkowy said. "People may say it's the best they have ever seen, but for us, it was jot. I don't know what's wrong today." He suggested the problems may have stemmed from being too focused on accomplishing all of the elements. "Maybe a little too nervous, so concentrated does not lead to high-joy skating," he said.

Volosozhar saved a triple toe loop by putting a foot down, a mistake that cost them a few points on execution. "Over all, it was a good short program," she said. "The key to winning is to just skate, show our emotions and our elements."

Trankov noted that at least they didn't fall, miscues that have plagued them in other competitions. "We noted that the judges were not holding back with their marks and everybody got a good score."

Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov of Russia finished only seventh and were "devastated" by their performance. The pencil-slim Bazarova popped the triple toe loop She can't explain why. "I never do that," she said. Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China, the 2010 world champions finished only sixth after Tong stumbled out of their triple toe loops. "Because of my knee injury, it was harder for us to compete," he said. "After the Grand Prix Final, we took one month off."

He was still in pain yesterday, the elder statesman of the group at age 33. Szolkowy is also 33.