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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 04:32 GMT

The pair with Gallic flair

BBC Sport Online's James Cowling charts the history of France's new Olympic ice dance champions.

For Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France, winning the Olympic gold medal in the ice dance competition was more than just the culmination of a nine year on ice partnership.

It is the story of two people from different countries who shared a common goal, to be Olympic champions.

Anissina was competing for Russian up until 1993 with former partner Ilia Averbukh.

The future looked bright for the Russian couple after winning two World Junior titles.

Averbukh, however, fell in love with another woman at their club, Irina Lobacheva, and Anissina was dumped.

He and Lobecheva were the runners up in this Olympic competition.

Desperate to keep skating, Anissina wrote a letter to Peizerat in France, himself a junior world medallist, asking him if he was looking for a new partner.

The Frenchmen invited her to a tryout.

His partnership with Marina Morel was near its end as she was struggling with injuries.

The Russian woman showed up in his home town of Lyon with only a small suitcase and a three month tourist visa.

When they started skating together, not only did they have to adjust to different styles of skating, they also had to communicate in English because neither of them knew the other's language.

Revenge on Italians

Their styles gelled very quickly and they started climbing the world ice dancing rankings almost immediately.

The French team's first foray onto the international medal podium came four years ago when they won the bronze medal at the Winter Games in Nagano.

Along with being six times France champions, they are European champions, two times world silver medallists and the 2000 World champions.

Since winning that title, the couple has had its share of set backs.

Last year, they had a disastrous fall with just 15 seconds to go in their free dance and had to settle for the silver medal behind their rivals, Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio of Italy.

The Italians went on to beat them at the World Championships as well.

This year they have come back stronger than ever, winning back their European title and now Olympic gold, with the help of Britain's Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.

The legendary ice dance duo, the Olympic gold medallists in 1984, helped choreograph their winning free dance to Liberta.


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