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Who would have guessed that ice dancing could be a dangerous sport?

But yesterday, at the wonkiest world figure skating championships ever, the doctors came running for two couples who had to withdraw.

And once again, a Canadian couple had to perform in front of judges immediately after skaters were injured.

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Bulgarian couple Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski withdrew yesterday after a practice accident the morning of the free dance.

Denkova suffered a deep cut to her left ankle and underwent surgery to stitch up some muscles after a collision with U.S. champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev.

Lang and Tchernyshev had been doing twizzles. But when Tchernyshev went to extend his leg, the Bulgarians just happened to come up behind him. Denkova's ankle was sliced just above her boot.

Tchernyshev was horrified. He managed to see the Bulgarians coming at the last moment and lowered his leg so that it wouldn't slice Denkova's back.

"We felt really bad and sorry," Tchernyshev said last night.

The accident occurred during the final minutes of the dance practice, when no couples had the right of way on the ice.

Denkova and Staviski never made it to the free dance, but young Italian couple Federica Faiella and Luciano Milo only skated about 15 seconds into their routine when disaster struck.

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Milo had been holding Faiella in an unusual low lift when Faiella fell, kicking his shin as she went down.

Milo could skate no more after that point, nor could he put weight on his left leg. Doctors carried him off the ice, and he left the arena on a stretcher.

Earlier in the week, a Ukrainian couple had a serious fall from a lift just before Canadian pair skaters Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz were to compete. But the Canadians were so overcome they had to stop and restart again.

Last night, it was Canada's No. 2 dance couple, Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe, who had to hustle out to skate. Both of them saw the accident.

"The guy didn't kill himself like in pairs when Kris [Wirtz]had to deal with seeing his life pass before his eyes," Lowe said. Lowe simply brushed his hair and went onto the ice.

But all of the skaters knew about the incident with Denkova. Before Wing and Lowe went out for their warmup, their coach, Igor Sphilband, told them not to take any chances, just to watch out. He's also the coach of Lang and Tchernyshev.

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Wing and Lowe said the advice was good, but it was a "crazy warmup" with several near collisions.

"Everybody wants control of the ice," Lowe said. "They want to show dominance."

But, Wing said, all couples are in danger in warmups because few of them are familiar with each other's patterns. The makeup of the practice sessions differs throughout the week.

The craziness of the week has taken its toll on Lowe. "It was crazy," he said. "Elvis got a silver. I could barely sleep last night. I was so thrilled.

"The night before, the same thing with the Ukrainian guy [the pairs skater who had the accident] I slept maybe six hours in the last four days. It's just been nuts. But it's pretty exciting. It's been good."

In spite of it all, Wing and Lowe skated well, finishing 15th in their world championships debut. And Canadian champions Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon were helped by the withdrawal of the Bulgarians, who had been ranked ahead of them.

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Dubreuil and Lauzon finished 10th in their first world championships, meeting their goal for the week.

"We finished in front of a lot of people that we were not able to beat this season," Dubrueil said. "But we came here and got in front of them. That's good for us. It's unusual. We are very pleased about that."

Even without four-time world bronze medalists Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz competing, the two couples, who had never been to world championships before, maintained Canada's current right to send two teams to the world championships next year in Vancouver.

Between accidents, French stars Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won their first world title, and the atmosphere was more like a rock party concert than a figure skating event.

As soon as Anissina and Peizerat appeared rinkside, the crowd roared and cheered wildly.

Italian champions Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio skated magnificently, considering they had to skate immediately after the French, and finished second.

Lithuanian skaters Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas also managed the first medal for Lithuania by moving up to third after performing their Tosca routine.

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