Russian ice dancers Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh, favorites to win the title at the world championships, performed their final competitive compulsory dance yesterday at MCI Center. There were no tears shed when it was over.

"I'm so happy," said Averbukh, after he and Lobacheva, his wife and skating partner, won their group. "I like training and practicing the original dance and free dance. I hate compulsory dance. It's very boring. I'm very happy I never have to skate compulsory dance again."

Victor Kraatz and longtime partner Shae-Lynn Bourne of Canada, who won the other qualifying group, also are skating in their final competition.

"I know that this is where Michael Jordan plays, but he's no longer 21," Kraatz said. "You got to do the most you can while you're still healthy. When you achieve those goals, you have to move on."

The compulsory dance is worth 20 percent of the final score. The original dance, which counts for 30 percent, is Thursday and the free dance, set for Friday night, is worth 50 percent.

U.S. champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev were fourth in their compulsory group; U.S. silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto placed fourth in the second group. The last time two American teams placed in the top 10 at the world championships was in 1990.

Belbin has admired Bourne and Kraatz since she was a young skater growing up in Kingston, Ontario. Skating and competing against them has been a thrill.

"They've really set the stage for us and hopefully, we can lead the way," Belbin said.

The world championships mark the first time this season that the Russians and Canadians are facing each other. Lobacheva and Averbukh, the reigning world titlists, have cruised through the season by winning every event they entered.

Meantime, Bourne and Kraatz, the world silver medalists, missed the international season while Bourne recovered from an ankle injury. They claimed their 10th consecutive Canadian championship and then won the Four Continents crown. Bourne and Kraatz aren't concerned about not being seen much by international judges this season. Sometimes, they said, it's better to be something of a surprise.

"We're always pulling a rabbit out of a hat," Kraatz said.

If the event were a popularity contest, Bourne and Kraatz might have the edge. Competing in the United States, where they have developed a strong fan base through touring, Bourne and Kraatz received applause virtually every time they turned a corner. Before their dance began, fans cheered as they skated around the rink together.

"It felt great," Bourne said. "It felt like we were at nationals with all those Canadian flags."

Following this competition, Bourne and Kraatz plan to tour with Champions on Ice. Lobacheva and Averbukh have agreed to skate in 70 shows in France and Switzerland.

Lobacheva and Averbukh decided in August that this would be their last competitive season. But Kraatz persuaded Bourne over the summer to skate one more season together.

"We have no regrets," Bourne said. "The level of our skating's just gone up this year. No matter what the end result, it's great."

Russian favorites Irina Lobacheva, Ilia Averbukh perform compulsory ice dancing program -- grudgingly. "I hate compulsory dance," Averbukh said. "It's so boring."