Lambiel wins men's title, Belbin-Agosto fourth

CALGARY, Alberta -- Stephane Lambiel's silver medal at the Torino Olympics looked as if it would be his biggest prize of the year.

His right knee aching, the Swiss star was considering not defending his title at the World Figure Skating Championships. Is he happy he changed his mind.

"I am going to enjoy this world championship," said Lambiel, who said the knee will need a lengthy rest. "I didn't make the decision to come here until 10 days ago, so this means a lot to me. I am very proud that I came here and that I competed."

He needed every element and every second of his free skate to hold off France's Brian Joubert.

Lambiel capped a magnificent program Thursday night with a quadruple toe loop and four triples in the second half of his routine to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." He finished it off with a
sizzling spin that could have melted the ice, and the Saddledome fans were on their feet long before he stopped turning.

The final skater of the evening, Lambiel lingered on the ice raising his arms, pumping his fists and throwing kisses to fans ringing cowbells and waving Swiss flags. After receiving his medal, he wrapped one of the flags around his shoulders and head and hugged those same fans.

"I had to push myself harder and harder, and that's why I did the job," Lambiel said. "I just thought about my skating and not about the other skaters."

He was wise not to think about Joubert, who he barely edged in the free skate. Lambiel had a 3.39 point edge overall.

American Evan Lysacek, who won bronze a year ago, came back from a hard fall in warmups to excite the crowd with a performance to rival his strong free skate in the Olympics. That long program lifted Lysacek to fourth in Torino; this one got him another bronze.

"I always learn more about myself through adversity than when it is easy," he said. "I relaxed and kind of went out there and went for it.

"It's days like these when I can relax a little bit and take a baby step back from it all and say it was worth it to just let go and enjoy it," he added.

Joubert looked like he might become the first men's winner from France in 41 years. He was bitterly disappointed with his sixth-place finish at Torino, scrapped his long program and brought back "The Matrix," with which he said he was "more comfortable." It didn't work that well in qualifying, when he was third in his group, but after Joubert won the short program with a James Bond routine, he blew away everyone but Lambiel in the free

"If I'd known that I could skate 'The Matrix' like I did tonight, I should have returned to it sooner," he said with a smile. "My performance was great."

Three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir barely made it off the ice holding his back and grimacing after crashing on a triple flip. He wound up seventh; he was fifth at the Olympics.

"For today, it was just hell getting on the ice," Weir admitted.

Matt Savoie, seventh at the Olympics, was 11th here.

Earlier, the original dance that catapulted Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto to the Olympic medals podium might have cost them a world championship. Their normally sultry salsa turned flat and they finished fourth in their strongest event. That dropped the Olympic silver medalists one spot overall to fourth behind couples from Bulgaria, Canada and France.

The three-time U.S. champions weren't quite sure why their marks were low compared to Torino, where they rhumbaed their way to second in the original dance and held that spot through the free dance.

"We felt a better connection with this program than in the Olympics," Belbin said. "Our technical marks were high and we had all the levels we wanted."

"It's always a surprise when the numbers come up. You don't know what to expect," added Agosto, who shrugged when he saw they remained behind Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski of Bulgaria and Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrick Lauzon of Canada. France's
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder also passed the Americans.

Denkova and Staviski, fifth in Torino, have won the compulsories and OD here. They have a lead of 1.28 points over the Canadians, a 2.08 edge over Delobel-Schoenfelder and a 2.16 lead over Belbin and Agosto. That's hardly insurmountable, but the Bulgarians were extremely confident after their strong original dance -- particularly after botching it at the Olympics.

"In the Olympics, we still don't understand what happened," Staviski said. "We looked at video and were not sure what it was, but we fixed whatever was that mistake.

"We concentrated to make it all clear and powerful. We didn't really change anything, but we got our feelings to a higher level," Staviski said.

Canada's Dubreuil and Lauzon dropped out of the Olympics after she injured her hip in a hard fall during the original dance. When the same moment of their program came up Thursday, the Saddledome grew quiet in anticipation.

After the slightly changed lift was done safely and impressively, the fans roared in salute.

"When I took that position," Dubreuil said of clasping both arms around his right arm and then putting her legs around his left arm as he spins quickly, "it was like a quiet moment. I felt the people stop breathing."

In Torino, she lost her grip on his arm and fell heavily to the ice, ending their chances. It was one of five falls during the Olympic OD.

Lauzon said the move has been changed to what they call the butterfly, "our signature lift, probably one we have done our entire career."

Regardless of the name, it flew brilliantly this time.

The other American couples, Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov and Morgan Matthews and Maxim Zavozin, were ninth and 17th, respectively.