Russians 1st after Cup of China compulsory dance

Russian couple Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin ranked first following the compulsory dance at the Cup of China figure skating meet Thursday.

Russian couple Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalinranked first following the compulsory dance at the Cup of China figure skating meet Thursday, while Olympic silver medallists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the United States opened their competitive season by stumbling into second place.

Domnina and Shabalin were first with 36.86 points while Belbin and Agosto finished second with a slight error that gave them 36.75 points.

"We have been doing really good all week, but obviously we had a weak performance," said Belbin, a native of Kingston, Ont. "I had a stumble and we weren't really all there, but it's fine for the first time out and we will do much better in the OD [original dance]."

Domnina and Shabalin were ninth at the Olympics and seventh at the worlds.

Third place went to another Russian duo, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski with 31.61.

Lauren Senft of West Vancouver and Leif Gislason of Winnipeg were seventh with 27.70 points, and Mylene Girard of Repentigny, Que., and Bradley Yaeger of Ottawa were eighth with a score of 26.00.

The original dance is set for Friday.

Belbin and Agosto are looking to make up for a disappointing world championships at the Cup of China.

"We feel good about this season. It has been a challenge getting ready in a short amount of time," Belbin said. "We are approaching it with a good mental attitude."

The pair have been busy with tours and exhibitions since the end of the last competition season.

After finishing runner-up to Olympic gold medallists Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov at Turin, Belbin and Agosto were expected to win the world championship at Calgary in March after the Russians passed on the event. But the Americans could only muster a third-place finish, while Bulgarians Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski won the world title.

Calgary marked the end of a tumultuous season for the American couple. Belbin was sworn in as aU.S. citizen on Dec. 31, after some assistance from the U.S. Congress and U.S. President George W. Bush, in a rush to get her on the Olympic team.

They started last season with a victory at Skate America, but withdrew from the NHK Trophy when Agosto pulled a groin muscle and was unable to participate in last December's Grand Prix final in Tokyo.

Now, in their first major competition since the world championships in March, they will perform a fun-filled free dance at the Cup of China to Singin' in the Rain.