2011 Pairs Event

by Alexandra Stevenson

Germans come from behind to recapture world title;
Chinese champions and Olympic silver medalists drop from first after the SP to third; may or may not continue;
New Russian partnership wins silver with teammates fourth and fifth;
Americans sixth and eleventh;
Canadian breaks nose of partner;

1.Overall 217.85; SP 2. 72.98 (39.12+33.86); FS 1. 144.87 (72.94+71.93) Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy, the seven-time German champions, broke the record overall score of 216.57 set by Olympic champions Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao of China when they won gold in the 2010 Olympic Games. They did so by 1.28, coming from behind, to regain the world title they held in 2008 & 2009 but lost in 2010. Savchenko was clearly ecstatic. She said, "This is an amazing new Seasonís Best. It was a very special atmosphere in the arena."

In their bubbling, amusing, confidently performed Free Skate routine, she was the playful burglar attired in a sexy, shocking pink backless cat suit and boot covers and he channeled Peter Sellers, the hysterically comical, incompetent French police inspector in the movie, The Pink Panther. It was a brilliant showing, rocketing them up from second after the SP to claim the title by a significant 7.12 points. In the Kiss ín Cry area, when the score appeared, she jumped up and down, shouting, ĎYesí and waving a furry pink panther.

Savchenko said, "This (their third world title) makes history for Germany (in pair skating). It felt as good as the performance we gave at the 2007 European championships." At that event, in Warsaw, they made a significant break-through. This past fall, they debuted both SP and FS in the Grand Prix Series, in Portland, Oregon, and in Paris, to great praise. They have been unbeaten this season.

Their coach, former world champion Ingo Steuer, normally has them start the season in the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, in their home country. However, they skipped that October event this season. "I thought they would do better with a later start," he said. In view of the subsequent tragic events, it was a wise decision. Steuer generally controls every aspect of their competitive routines except their clothing, which is ruled by Savchenko. But he decided his pupils were ready to choose their own path this time. That took longer than normal, but Savchenko eventually came up with this idea. "I really liked this music," she said smiling after this victory. However, Szolkowy confessed it had taken him quite a while to relax into his role.

In view of their ages (27 and 31), will they stay till the 2014 Olympics in Sochi? Steuer said, "That is the goal. They didnít do as well as they hoped in Vancouver (although they earned bronze). From their showing here, I see no reason why they canít win in 2014." The skaters said they would take it one year at a time but are already looking forward to next year.

In the SP, the day before the Free, the Germans skated 19th of the 22 pairs from 15 countries, immediately following the Chinese. Savchenko & Skolkowy presented a lively Short Program to the Russian folk music Korobushko performed by Bond. It was awarded 1.02 marks less (0.97 lower on the elements and 0.05 lower for components) than the leaders of this section, Qing Pang & Jian Tong, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists and 2006 & 2010 world champions.

The Germansí SP opening move, a soaring throw triple flip, gained three of the maximum +3 Grades of Execution. Four judges punched in +2 but two judges looked down their noses and determined it worthy of only +1. The discrepancy in opinion between the nine judges continued to their second element, a huge throw triple flip that was awarded Level 2 by the Technical Panel which included Australian/American Peter Cain. The judges gave six +2s and one +1, but also two -1s, which meant that duo of officials saw something actually wrong with the move.

There was mutual agreement that Savchenko and Szolkowyís solid triple toe solo jumps were worthy of +1 or +2. Their Level 4 Axel lift gained three +3s, five +2s and one +1. Their Level 4 back inside death spiral got a solitary +3 which stuck out. By the end of this move, they were straining and moving quite slowly. One judge gave +2 but six judges presented +1 and the remaining official punched in zero, which is for a merely adequately performed move. Their straight line steps were Level 3 and the final flying camel combo spin Level 4.

When their total marks flashed up, the Germans knew immediately that they were not in the lead. Szolkowy said, "Compared to the rest of the season, this was another good program. It has been hard to keep the motivation up with the uncertainty of these last few weeks." Savchenko, who looked really very disappointed, is originally from the Ukraine. Her parents were in the audience here, which has been a rare occurrence. Her father is a former weight lifter who was instrumental in getting his only daughter (he also has three sons) into figure skating.

In the Free, they skated first of the final four, immediately after their warm-up and prior to the Chinese. She said, "It was quite good for us to skate first and the starting number 13 seems to be a lucky number for us." Right from the start, when she kept darted out from behind him and he mimed his frustrating inability to find her, they demonstrated they were taking a pair skating routine into a new realm of story telling. They didnít put a finger wrong, flying through jumps Ė two triple toes in a sequence and later synchronized double Axels; throws Ė triple flip to begin with and triple Salchow to conclude the four minutes forty seconds; lifts Ė all three gaining the maximum Level 4 as did their solo spins and the pair spin. It was a delight to watch and will surely become a classic on the internet. They set themselves up to get and did get a record score for this section and overall.

She declared, "It is special for us to win this third title here in Moscow. We have good

memories of Moscow. We competed here in our first Worlds in 2005. We believed in this Pink Panther program. We were sure about it from the very beginning. As for Sochi, weíll take it year by year." Szolkowy said, "It was a perfect skate at the end of this long season."

2.Overall 210.75; SP 3. 70.35 (37.43+32.92); FS 2. 140.38 (70.14+70.24) Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov are a fresh pairing who won the Russian championship less than a year after they teamed up. Although they are new together, they are both extremely experienced. Their last event with their previous partners was the Olympics in Vancouver where he was eighth and she seventh. She is a four-time Ukrainian champion. The 24-year-old and her former partner, Stanislav Morozov, competed in five world championships with a top place of 4th in 2007. (Earlier, Morozov won the world junior championship with Aliona Savchenko. They broke up when he was injured. Savchenko then went to Germany.) Trankov, 27, partnered Maria Murkhortova. They were Russian champions in 2007, silver medalists in the 2008 European championships and 2005 World Junior champions in 2005.

After deciding to skate together, they did not compete in last yearís world championships in order to fulfill the ISU "sit-out" regulations. Skaters changing countries, as Volosozhar was, cannot compete in an ISU international for their new country for a year. The Olympics, of course, were over a year ago. Volosozhar said, "We are pleasantly surprised with this result since we have skated together for such a short time. I was only cleared to compete for Russia last month. We just wanted to show our best performance and that's what we did."

The order of skating is made according to a complicated system with the ISU ranking. Since Volosozhar & Trankov had no ranking together they were relegated to execute their Carmina Burana SP eighth of the 22 pairs. (The maximum allowed into the pairs SP is officially 20 with a wiggle space of one or two. The entry originally had 23 pairs, which would have necessitated a qualifying round, which did take place in the other three disciplines. However, one pair withdraw before the event.)

Volosozhar & Trankov completed all eight elements without a flaw and placed third, 2.62 points behind the Germans and a significant 5.71 ahead of their teammates, Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov.

Only 16 pairs were permitted into the FS. They were divided into four groups of four with the top four skating last. Volosozhar & Trankov executed their dramatic Romeo and Juliet FS last, bringing the pairs event to a exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Volosozhar & Trankov began with a triple twist which was only Level 1 but received six +3 GoEs. (The base value for this move is 5.0. No one received more than Level 2 for their triple twist (which has a base value of 5.4. However, the Japanese champions did a Level 4 for their double twist which has a base value of only 3.8.)

The following side-by-side triple Salchows had a slight flaw and got -0.30 GoE. But immediately after was a second jumping pass of triple toe loop to double toe loop, which was good enough to have 0.90 added to the base value of 5.5 points. The other Levels were all 4. Their first throw, a loop timed for when the bonus clicks in, also received three +3s. It was an amazing debut.

Trankov said, "For us, it is already amazing that we are Russian Champions. We tried not to think about winning. We just work hard and weíve been feeling better every day. We try to skate for each other (they are a couple off the ice) and I think that works for us. Of course, if we didn't have any hopes for a medal in the next Olympics, we wouldn't have created this pair. That is what it is all about. We made this change because we have aspirations for Sochi."

Volosozhar added, "It was great. The emotions are just overwhelming! For me this was a very serious competition, plus a year is a long time not to compete (internationally). We were third after the SP, so it was a little hard to concentrate, but everything went nice. We wanted to show what we do on our trainings to show everybody, the audience and the judges, that we are worthy." Waiting for their free music to start, they spoke to each other, presumably giving each other a quick pep speech. What were they saying? She said, "I wonít disclose our secrets, but we always do that before starting the routine."

Trankov watched his singlesí teammate Artur Gachinski compete and said it helped him get on track. "Today, Artur took half of my nervousness away. I was so nervous when he skated, that when it was my turn to perform I was already much more calm. It's good. We proved that we can fight with the strongest pairs in the world."

3. Overall 204.12; SP 1. 74.00 (40.09+33.91); FS 3. 130.12 (61.71+68.41) Qing Pang & Jian Tong, China After winning the Four Continents championships in Chinese Taipei in February, Pang & Tong, who are both 31, revealed they were planning to marry this summer and were thinking of retiring because, as he revealed after winning the Four Continents championship in February, "We are getting older and every year I feel my legs. I have to practice longer and longer to get the same standard."

But they are now saying that, maybe, they will continue to compete. The defending world champions, who also earned the title in 2006, are silver medalists from the Vancouver Olympics. They were superb in the SP presenting a mesmerizing performance to Bizetís The Pearl Fishers. Their throw triple loop received five +3 GoEs. The rest of the panel gave +2.

Pang said, "It went really well today, with all the elements well done. Today's performance gives us confidence for the free skating tomorrow. We are just happy that this competition is taking place and that we were able to achieve a seasonís best score. Hopefully, tomorrow we can skate a strong program and can land all our jumps."

Their Free, set to Lisztís Liebestraum, had a problem right away when he singled the first jump in their opening sequence of two planned double Axels, and then doubled his triple toe loop in their third element. That cast a shadow over the rest of the routine although the other ten elements all gained positive GoEs of from +0.50 for their Level 2 back outside death spiral up to +1.90 for their first throw, a triple Salchow. Their score was still a Seasonís Best for them. She admitted, "We were a little nervous today and it is a pity we didn't skate as well as we could have, but we will try harder next time."

He said, "Today was a good opportunity for us, but we missed it. It is our coach's birthday (Bin Yao) and we have trained with him for 18 years. Maybe I thought too much and grew too nervous. Maybe that's why it was hard." They have had an extremely long career, taking part in the World Junior championships in 1997 and moving to the senior Worlds in 1999. Here, they won their second World bronze. Their first was earned in 2004. They took silver in 2007 and won the title in 2006 and 2010.

4. Overall 187.36; SP 5. 62.54 (31.83+31.71 -1); FS 4. 124.82 (61.38+64.46 -1) Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov, Russia, the 2009 & 2010 World bronze medalists, who were fourth in the Olympics and lost their European title this season to the Germans, skated their SP, set to Richard Straussí Thus Sprake Zarathustra, last of the 22 pairs. He fell in their Straight Line Step Sequence. Smirnov explained, "I got carried away by the emotions in the program and I forgot to focus on my feet so it was my fault. We were at our peak at the time for Worlds in Tokyo. After the tragedy, our coach tuned down the training a bit but then stepped it up again. Tomorrow weíll fight."

They won the Russian championship three times, 2008-2010 but were dethroned this season. In their Free, set to Debussyís Claire de Lune, Kavaguti, 29, fell on their throw triple loop, but were able to overtake their teammates and finish fourth by a minuscule 0.23 points. Smirnov said, "We skated good, beautiful and gently. It was hard to concentrate for this performance, but Yuko told me, ĎLetís skate for us, our coach and the audience,í and so we did. I think we made what we wanted. We gave everybody this feeling of warmth. One element didnít come out, but we still have time until Sochi. Our coach, Tamara Nikolaevna (Moskvina, who won the pairs silver in Worlds in Colorado Springs in 1969), has some plans for new programs but we donít know about them yet."

Kavaguti is one persistent lady! Over a decade ago, she traveled from Japan to New Jersey and turned up at the rink in New Jersey where Moskvina was teaching unannounced. She shadowed Moskvina continually asking for her help in finding a partner. Moskvina teamed her up with a Russian, Alexander Markuntsov, and they represented Japan three world championships 2001-3.

Kavaguchi had subsequent partners but eventually gave up her Japanese citizenship (that country does not allow their citizens to hold more than one passport). She even had to accept a revised Anglicized spelling of her last name in order to represent Russia in the Olympics. By then Moskvina had moved back to her native St. Petersburg.

5. Overall 187.13; SP 4. 64.64 (36.10+28.54); FS 5. 122.49 (62.29+61.20 -1) Vera Bazarova, &Yuri Larionov, Russia, finished only 0.23 behind their teammates. Skating their SP to Secret Gardenís Adagio, they got a -0.40 off the base value for their triple toe loops but the rest of the elements had good GoEs. Then in their FS, set to The Man in the Iron Mask, Larionov fell on this jump. The 24 year old shrugged, saying "I don't know what happened." Bazarova, 18, said, "It is disappointing to end our season like that, not on the highest point. We will not relax and will be going on. We are already getting ready for the next season. We will start working on new programs and breaking in new boots, but now we need to relax."

In their debut at worlds last year, they finished eighth. Larionov was suspended for two years for in January 2008 for a doping violation but the sentence was reduced and the pair was able to compete in the Vancouver Olympics where they finished 11th. Unlike the majority of top Russian competitors, who train in Moscow or St. Petersburg, they are based in Perm.

6. Overall 175.94; SP 8. 58.76 (32.93+26.83 -1); FS 6. 117.18 (59.75+57.43) Caitlin Yankowskas & John Coughlin, the new national champions, gained the highest place for a US pair since Rena Inoue & John Baldwin were fourth in 2006. They skated their SP to Astor Piazzolaís Oblivion 20th. All went well with their triple twist, which gained a full point over the base value, and their throw triple Salchow, which earned an extra +0.90. However, he fell after their triple toes.

The 25-year-old explained, "Our goal all season is to get as many Ďplusí elements as possible. We had the one negative GOE on the (triple) toes and, unfortunately, I kind of was faked out trying to get synced back up afterward and tripped. Iím the captain of my team so thatís on me. Live and learn. The rest of the program was solid. I thought we did a nice lift considering both of my hands were wet and we were off timing. I hate to say learning experience, but we are sitting in a pretty good spot for our first worlds.

Overall, it was a positive experience for us. We did some good things. (They skated 20th, immediately following the pairs who took the top two spots in this SP section.) It was a tough crowd following some awesome performances so, to get this position, I feel like we belong."

Yankowskas, 20, added, "I felt really good out there considering that this is Worlds. We trained really hard and the program felt easy and the ice feels good. We just had a few mistakes. (She stepped out of her triple toe.) But I donít think itís going to hinder our confidence going into the Free. Iím looking forward to getting back out there and performing again."

They drew to skate their FS, choreographed to Schubertís Ave Maria, 12th and performed it almost flawlessly. The only misstep was Yankowskas putting a hand momentarily on the ice on the throw triple Salchow Their only mistake was Yankowkas brief hand down on the landing of the throw triple Salchow. Coughlin said, "The long, today, was everything we were hoping it would be. Itís kind of a farewell to this very emotional piece and a farewell to this chapter for us. Your first national title is something you will never experience again and we wanted to savor this and (give the number a final outing). Iíll be grateful to everyone forever for this program."

Yankowskas said, "I knew it was going to be good because we were both really serene and calm before we took the ice. I just looked at him and got chills, and thought, ĎOh, man! Weíre not alone.í I had the utmost confidence going into this program and we didnít second guess one thing. We were really into each other and itís so awesome to skate that way and not be worried about anything." After they finished, he knelt down to kiss the ice. He explained, "This program is dedicated to the memory of my mother, who passed last year."

7. 173.03; SP 7. 58.83 (34.77+24.06); FS 7. 114.20 (61.52+52.68) Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford are Canadaís second ranked pair, competing in their first season together. Dramatic photographs of her left elbow smashing his nose during their triple twist in their SP made newspapers all over the world! An astonished Duhamel, who finished sixth and eighth in the 2008 and 2009 Worlds with previous partner, Craig Buntin, said, "They showed it on Russian television and it was even on the page of a paper in Australia!"

To accomplish the three revolutions in a twist lift, the woman must pull her arms tightly to her chest. The 25-year-old Duhamel explained, "I just opened up (after the three revolutions) a bit early. The goal is for Eric to catch me with my arms over my head. After the twist, I saw his face freeze and his eyes start to water. I told him twice, ĎItís OK. We can still do the triple Lutz (solo jumps).í He landed his but I guess I was so concerned for him, I forgot to concentrate on mine and stepped out of it. Every time I looked at him the blood got worse and worse and worse. It was all over his face.

"When we went into the lasso lift, I said, ĎLetís stop.í But he just kept going. Iím SO proud of him for finishing the program." Radford, who is 26, said, "I was shocked when I saw the photographs of impact squish. I was very shocked when it happed and it hurt a lot. You can see from footage of my face that when I was going into the Lutz, I was blank, not seeing anything because of the tears. But I just kind of magically did it.

"I never considered stopping, even when Meagan mentioned it after the lift. But I could see, I could breathe. I wasnít dying. I was determined to just keep going. I thought, ĎIíll deal with the problem after weíre finished." Duhamel said she felt herself whack Radford, then only had to look at him to realize he was in rough shape.

His broken nose was reset by Skate Canadaís team doctor, Dr. Marni Wesner.

Although they both skated at the same rink, sharing the same coaches, they had never thought of teaming up before. Radford, has had other partners and finished 8th at the 2010 Canadian championships with Anne-Marie Giroux.

The twist, which had only 0.10 removed from the base value, was their first element. His nose bled throughout the routine. It was hardly surprising that their triple Lutzes, which came up next, got two -3s and the rest -2s. However, despite the continuing stream of blood, they completed the other five required elements. All received positive GoEs and the level moves were rewarded with the maximum 4. The pair was second up and performed to Concerto pour une Voix. They train with Richard Gautier and Bruno Marcotte in St Leonard. Julie Brault is their choreographer.

They were ninth up for the following dayís FS which was set to The Train by Konstantin Krimets & Meet Joe Black by Thomas Newman. The twist was again their first element. This was much better. They received Level 2 with +0.20. Duhamel said, "My heart was racing before the twist today since I was really focused. But I limited my thoughts to the good ones we did in practice.

"We had a pretty rough start to this season. The whole season seemed like a never ending fight. It was a battle to come here and it was a battle to finish this competition. But, as a couple, we are willing to push through anything."

Radford was very self-effacing, acting as if his courage was nothing out of the ordinary. "I feel good. My nose is OK. It is almost like nothing happened with it. I had ice on it all night, so it looks good now. To compete here was just like a surreal moment after what happened yesterday. It is funny to look back at it now."

They were the only pair to present a triple Lutz to two double toe loops which earned them 8.7 points overall. They had only one major error. Their planned triple toe loops counted only as bad doubles.

8. Overall 163.17; 10.SP 56.86 (31.33+25.53); 8.FS 106.31; Kirsten Moore‐Towers & Dylan Moscovitch, the 2011 Canadian champions, only teamed up in 2009 although both had skated pairs before. The 26-year-old Moscovitch should have been right at home, here in Moscow. His name means "Son of Moscow". But no! "My heritage is actually Roumanian," he says with a laugh. Earlier in the season, they had earned silver medals in both Skate Canada, where they were a last minute replacement, and the Skate America Grand Prix. They were sixth in the Final.

But, after posting a personal-best score to claim the Canadian title in Victoria, B.C. in January, he and the 18-year-old Kirsten (who is called KMT), finished behind two of the pairs they had beaten in nationals, in the Four Continents Championships in February. Jet lag played a part in that setback. In Moscow, they were three places but less than two points behind their teammates after the SP, which they performed to Zorba, the Greek.

He said, "Of course, we were a little disappointed. Our scores were a little higher throughout the season, and that was probably our highest performance in terms of how well we skated it. We didnít get the marks we were looking for." They were able to pull up two places with their Les Miserable FS, from tenth to eighth overall, but the gap between them and Duhamel & Radford stretched to nearly ten points.

9. Overall 160.10; SP 6. 59.16 (33.57+25.59) FS 10. 100.94 (50.09+52.85 -2) Narumi Takahashi & Mervin Tran, who live and train in Canada but represent Narumiís birth country, Japan, are the 2010 World Junior silver and current World Junior bronze medalists, making their Senior World debut. Their SP, set to Michael Bubleís Feeling Good, put them in an excellent place, sixth. Tran, 19, said, "Iím satisfied with this performance. It was the best we could have done. We achieved a Seasonís Best but we thought we could break 60 points, so we were a little disappointed with the score."

However, in their FS, to Raul di Blasioís El Dia Que Me Quieras, she had two falls, on their first move, a triple Salchow, and then again on a triple toe loop set when the bonus marks click in. Takahashi, who is 20, said, "It is still a learning experience for us. We are young and we will come back with stronger. I am disappointed about my mistakes." Tran added, "Although we had the mistakes, overall it was a pretty strong performance. This is our first senior Worlds and we learned a lot from here. We finished ninth and that's not bad for us."

10. Overall 157.15; SP 9. 57.63 (32.46+25.17); FS 11. 99.52 (52.60+46.92) Stefania Berton, 20, & Ondrej Hotarek, 27, from Italy, were 11th in their debut in this event last year. They performed their SP to Piazzollaís Invierno Porteno and their FS to Nino Rotaís Romeo & Juliet. After the Free, he said, "We did our best, thatís why Iím happy." But she wasnít. "I doubled my Salchow. This is a rare thing to happen Ė maybe once in 15 times so I am disappointed."

11. Overall 155.91; SP 11. 54.64 (30.99+24.65 -1.0); FS 9. 101.27 (53.84+49.43 -2) Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig, the twice US silver medalists, who skated their SP to the lively Sing Sing Sing 12th of the 22 pairs, were disappointed. The 30-year old Ladwig explained, "We had some excellent levels. Our spin and lift were Level 4. Iím not sure, but I must have been short on (the revolutions for) the back inside death spiral because we didnít quite get the full count (only Level 1). There was a slight touch on the (triple twist) and we only got level 1, but it was very well executed. In terms of the jumps (side-by-side triple toes, on which Evora fell), when we got here at the beginning of the week, I was falling, too." Evora, 26, added, "Iím disappointed in my personal goals. However, we do have a program tomorrow so we are lucky to try to reach out goals again."

Ladwig was kicking himself after their FS, which they performed seventh to Pucciniís Nessun Dorma. Their triple twist was Level 2 (no one got higher) with a slight positive (+0.10). But, on their side-by-side triple toes, he readily admitted, "I totally botched the takeoff (and fell). I put my toe in and thought I had it (the takeoff). Then I squeezed and the next thing I know, Iím going forward which is never a good thing. (Almost all jumps are landed on a back outside edge.)"

Then, on their third move, the throw triple Lutz, Evora fell. However, she immediately sprung back and their next move, a change foot combination spin earned the maximum Level 4 as did their pair spin and their three spectacular lifts. Her landing on their second throw, a triple loop, was clean, and their back outside death spiral earned Level 3. Their only other mistake was on their jump combination, double Axel to half loop to double Salchow in which the Axel was downgraded.

Evora explained, "It was harder to get through worlds a second time. The first time, we had not competed against the field and there were less expectations. This time, we were kind of expected to do well. We have to learn how to deal with that stress every time we are out there. Yesterday, I felt like Mark was the rock (of reliability) and I felt like today, I had to be somewhat of a rock. I know the program score doesnít show it but I did accomplish some of my personal goals and I am actually very happy about that. I felt much better tonight than yesterday. "

Ladwig said he enjoys coming to Moscow. "They have best Borscht in the world. The people have always been friendly here. Itís been fun." Overall, they were a good distance, 6.26, over the Germans, Maylin Hausch & Daniel Wende, who were 12th in both sections and overall. However, it was frustration to realize they needed only 1.15 more points to have finished in the top ten.

 

2011 Pairs Medalists

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