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2013 World Championships

Russians in Class by Themselves, Dethrone Reigning Champions

 by Alexandra Stevenson


Debuting at Worlds is Not an Easy Task for American Pairs Champions

by Alexandra Stevenson

Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, who took over as the new U.S. title holders when the previous champions, Caydee Denney & John Coughlin, were forced to pull out of nationals due to his hip injury, drew to skate first of the 16 pairs allowed to Free Skate. The Boston duo, who are in their seventh season of skating together, were upbeat about their first appearance in this event in which they remained in 13th place although they placed 12thin the Free.

They performed to Julian Plaza’s “Payadora”, opening with a Level 3 triple twist which was good enough for +0.50 to be added to its base value of 5.00. The following side-by-side triple toe loops banked an extra +0.30, and their throw double Axel was so good it received six +2 Grades of Execution and +1 from the other three judges. That meant 1.20 points were added to the move’s base value of 4.00. Their Axel lasso lift earned the maximum Level 4 with a full point extra.

However, their flying camel combination spin, although the maximum Level 4, had -0.21 removed from the base value. And, on their side-by-side double Axels to double toe loops, they got credit for only a single on the second jump and lost a full point.

Their pair combination spin was not only the top level, it received an extra +0.29. Their throw triple Salchow was one of the highlights of their routine, gaining an addition 0.50 as did their choreographed section. Their last three elements were very well done. The forward inside death spiral was Level 3 with +0.40. They ended with two applause soliciting Level 3 lifts. The Group 5 version was Level 3 and received an extra +0.50, while the Group 3 lift was Level 4 and earned an extra +0.50.

Their components ranged from a solitary 5.75 up to two 7.25.

“We had a great skate,” the 22-year-old Castelli said. “We’re really happy. This is our first Worlds, and we weren’t expecting to be on the podium or anything but I think we skated great. We’ve learned that no matter how many distractions we have, we can always skate well and do a good job on the ice. We’re happy with the outcome. It’s definitely helping demystifying the potential Olympic experience.”

Her 25-year-old partner added, “Our focus is one day at a time right now. We’re coming off this long season and we’re going to continue on and see where our next season takes us. We have that experience of having a longer season and taking that under our belts for future seasons. But we’re not looking too far into the future.”

They were obviously disappointed with their total marks. Castelli admitted, “We’re a little confused by them. We skated the best we could and we’re happy we did what we came out here to do. We skated first which is always a difficult spot to be in. We’re glad from the performance we had.”

Shnapir, a 6’4” 25-year-old, said, “The scores are the scores and we can’t control that. We felt the energy the whole time, the crowd was behind us the whole time. It felt wonderful to be here. Every competition is different, every panel is different. The key is longevity here. Looking at some of the top teams in the world now and teams in history that have really been successful through the years, there time together has been more in the decades than in the single digits. That’s the key really here with seeing success with our sport. That’s true in the U.S. and all over the world. We have the advantage of having been together for so many years and we’re going to continue on that path.”

Castelli added, “Simon and I have been through a lot. We’ve fought. But we both want to obtain a goal and we think we can do it together. We’ve chosen to stick together and fight through everything. That’s commitment and dedication.”

Shnapir continued, “ I think we can take a lot of lessons from the dancers like Meryl (Davis) and Charlie (White) and Tessa (Virtue) and Scott (Moir) and the Shibutanis who have been together 10, 15 years. It’s remarkable. As pairs skaters, we can take a lesson in that. It’s a tough question, it’s hard to point out why it’s like that but I think it’s something we have to work toward.”

Castelli added, “– It’s definitely physical. Higher throws, twists, jumps. People get injured and it’s hard. That’s why it’s difficult to stay in it.”

(17 March 2013)

Canadians Win First World Pair Medal Soince 2008
Max Says 'Good things have come to me here. Canada is my Country'

1.  Overall 225.71; 1.FS 149.87 (76.36+74.51 -1) Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, skating last of the 16 pairs permitted into the Free Skate, dominated the event. They interpreted Ikuko Kawai’s “Violin Muse” producing a brilliant showing that was marred only by Trankov’s unexpected trip and fall to his knees after their second throw element.

At the end, the 29-year-old Trankov looked totally spent and dejected. While he was moodily slouching like a piece of prime meat spoiling in the sun, his partner bubbled over with joy, showing off a huge grin and waving ecstatically to the responsive audience. When she finally realized he wasn’t doing the same, she skated back to him and said a few words, obviously trying to get him to respond to the cheers, which he finally did.

Volosozhar, who is 26, said later, “After we finished our program, I said to Maxim, ‘Probably, we are World Champions.’ Those were my first words. We did all our elements, the throws, everything with a plus. This was the result of our hard work. Right now I am more emotional about our skate than about winning. But obviously we are thrilled. After finishing second twice for the past two years (to the Germans), we wanted to move up.

Trankov eventually said, “I can’t believe it yet, that we have won. This means we can fight for gold in Sochi, and get the gold medal back for Russia.” About his fall, he explained, “Tania landed the throw (triple Salchow) so beautifully that I start to rush to catch up with her and my body went ahead of my legs. Apparently, we can’t do a competition without a deduction this season! (He had two falls when winning the Grand Prix Final in December.) That is worrying.”

He delighted the locals when he explained, he has fond memories of his competitions in Canada (which included the Olympic Games in which he and his previous partner finished seventh, and Volosozhar and her previous partner were eighth representing Ukraine.) “I won my first world (Junior) title in Kitchener (about 60 miles from London), in 2005 and, now, here in London, I get my second. In Vancouver, Tanya’s partner told me he was retiring and suggested she would be a better partner for me. Good things have come to me here. Canada is my country!”

(Volosozhar is romantically attached to her former partner and he has been part of their coaching team from the start. That was very important because, initially, there were significant problems because Russian and Ukrainian techniques and approaches to moves were significantly different.)

Their superiority was immediately apparent. In their first element, their triple twist, Trankov launched her many feet above him with apparent ease. She completed three revolutions and he caught her securely and without strain as if she weighed no more than an apple. Eight of the nine judges awarded them the maximum +3 Grade of Execution with the remaining official giving +2.

Ten of their twelve required elements received at least one vote of +3. The two exceptions were a straight line of +2s for their “choreographed section” and their final move, the pair combination spin, received six +2s and three +1s. However, that spin and all the other five moves, which are given a Level by the Technical Panel, earned the maximum 4. (The choreographed section is always the assigned Level 1.) Their components included one 10 and went down to five 8.75s.

They earned a new world record for both the Free Skate and the overall score. Trankov said, “This means we can fight for the gold in Sochi and give back to Russia Olympic gold. For sure it is very important to win the year before the Olympic Games and we are absolutely happy to get this gold."

Russia won 12 consecutive Olympic pairs golds from 1964 through 2006, beginning with Ludmila & Oleg Protopopov, through Irina Rodnina’s three golds with her two partners, and concluding with Tatiana Totmianina & Maxim Marinin. (The Protopopovs eventually defected to Switzerland and currently spend their summers in Lake Placid in New York State, where they can be seen still skating.)

But Russian pairs were shut out of the medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games, in which the Chinese took both gold and silver, and Savchenko & Szolkowy gained the bronze. Russians also dominated the world pair championships. They won gold with only three exceptions from 1965 to 1990, but there has not been a Russian pair on top of the world podium since Totmianina & Marinin in 2005.

Trankov said, "For me, this title is important because I love to be a pairs skater. I am old school Russian figure skater and, for me, it is most important to give back because I love to watch traditional pairs skating." But he says they will not be sitting on their laurels. "We just won this competition but next year there will be other competitions before the Olympics - another Europeans, another Grand Prix and it will be another situation. They (Savchenko & Szolkowy) are four-time world champions (2008, 2009, 2011 & 2012). They know how to fight!”

2.  Overall 205.56; 2.FS 132.09 (64.18+68.91 -1)  Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy, of Germany, who had hoped for Olympic gold and decided to continue when they received only the bronze in 2010. They were the defending champions (winning worlds in 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2011. But, this season, she has been plagued by sinusitis and injury, missing a lot of training.

They went into the Free Skate in third place, but it was only by 0.14 behind the Canadians. That small advantage by the Canadians recreated a situation in which the home country audience anticipated their champions would earn silver overall, and many in the crowd were disappointed when that did not happen, particularly because the Germans made errors.

Szolkowy, who is 33, readily admitted they weren’t on top form. He said, “Sometimes the pair elements work better, sometimes the single elements. Today it was the pairs that happens. After being third after the short, we wanted to attack, for sure. We did the throw triple Axel, that was the highlight of our performance today. It worked perfectly - well it wasn’t clean (she landed on both feet instead on one), but for being at the very end of the program it was great. And we have a medal for sure. It is a nice ending of a tough season for us. We got silver with mistakes. It is another step towards Sochi.

The 29-year old Savchenko said, “I am angry at myself (She doubled her first jump in their second move, a series of two triple toe loops, and doubled her triple Salchow later in the program, a jump he also messed up.) At the beginning, I was somehow confused. Maybe I saved energy for the throw triple Axel. But now I know what to do.

She is known as a very determined person. She left her native Ukraine in search of a partner. At that time Szolkowy had retired from a not particularly distinguished career. To keep him at least coming to the Chemnitz ice rink, the local synchronized skating team, all women, decided to make him their project and get him to join them. He said he quite enjoyed that situation, in which multiple young women were paying attention to him. He had no thoughts of returning to pairs competition. But Szolkowy got her way, and they took part in the 2006 Olympic Games.

Their Free routine this season was to “Bolero” and began an excellent throw which earned five +3s and four +2s. After her trouble with the jump, she recovered well, and their forward inside death spiral rated the top Level 4 with +1.30 GoE. Their flying change foot combination spin was “only” Level 3 with +0.57. After a good choreographed section, they presented a Level 3 triple twist which got an extra +1.20.

But then she lost -0.60 for doubling her Salchow, and he fell. Two very good Level lifts followed, both earning +1.40 and a Level 4 pair spin which earned an extra full point. After a third Level 4 lift, which was given an extra +0.79, they finished with a surprise – the throw triple Axel at the very end of the program. This rarely seen move was first accomplished by U.S. champions Rena Inoue & John Baldwin, when they took part in the 2006 Olympic Games. Although they received negative GoEs, with the 10% bonus which clicks in for jumps and throws, they earned a total of 7.34 points, which was more than the easier initial throw which was done so well.

This was their seventh consecutive medal at the ISU World Championships. He said, “After being third after the short, we wanted to attack, for sure. We did the throw triple Axel, that was the highlight of our performance today. It worked perfectly, well it wasn’t clean, but for it being at the very end of the program it was great. It is a nice ending of a tough season for us. It is another step towards Sochi.”

The Germans had skated right after the Canadians so when the German marks were posted, some in the audience boo-ed their advancement to second. But Savchenko & Szolkowy took that in good spirit.

3.  Overall 204.56; 3.FS 130.23 (65.75+65.20)  Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford, who were excited to finish fifth last year, are Canada's first world pairs medal since Jessica Dube & Bryce Davison claimed bronze in 2008. It must have been frustrating for the Canadians to score 2.60 more points for their element score but see the Germans rise to take the silver medal on the basis of the components marks which were 5.44 higher than those for the Canadians.

Duhamel & Radford’s routine to the “Angel” movie soundtrack began with a Level 2 triple twist. Then they executed a move none of the other pairs tried: side-by-side triple Lutzes, and they were solid, high with no doubt about the take-off or landing and clearly completed rotation. That element, alone, gave them 6.90 points.

They followed that with their choreographed section. Then came a +1.20 Level 3 back entry lasso lift followed by a Level 4 flying change foot combination spin good enough for the judging panel to justify a +0.71 averaged Grade of Execution.

After another Level 3 lasso lift which gained an extra 1.20, they had a major mistake. They nearly collided during their triple Salchow to two double toe loop jumps combination, which was saddled with arrows for under-rotation on the first and last jumps. They sprung back from that problem with a Level 4 pair combination spin that received a full half point over its base value, and a throw triple loop which elicited an extra +0.80 from the judges.

Then came a Group 4 Level 3 lift (+0.43), a throw triple Lutz (-0.10) and their final move, a Level 3 forward inside death spiral (+0.80). Their component scores ranged from two 8.75s down to two 7.75s. One thing which is very positive about this program is that there is room for the Levels to get higher so they should be making even more progress in the near future. Their score for this section was a personal best.

Duhamel, who is 27, said, “It’s the most surreal, unbelievable moment in our lives. It’s something very special and soothing that we’ll have forever. For it to happen at home in Canada, that topped it all off. Three years ago, when I came here to qualify for the Olympics I left with a bronze medal (at Nationals) and I didn’t qualify for the Olympics. It was the lowest point in my life, rock bottom. It’s three years later and this is the happiest bronze medal I’ve ever had in my life. We had a dream. I think for a while we were the only ones that believed in it.

Radford, 28, added, “We started off very well. I think we stayed very calm and we took everything one thing at a time. We didn’t get ahead of ourselves. I think that is what kept it together for us at the end. I felt a little tired near the end, but the energy in the building really helped us to push through the end.”

However, they admitted that waiting to perform was extremely hard. Duhamel said, “I was watching the event on television while I was waiting, but Eric went and sat in the bathroom to try and forget about it.” But afterwards they were all smiles. Duhamel said, “This bronze medal is golden to us.”

Radford said they were satisfied with their bronze. “When we get to the Olympics we know that we’re capable and the world knows we’re capable of winning a medal and we’re not just participating at the Olympics anymore” he said.

4.  Overall 199.50; 5.FS 130.25 (66.78+63.47)  Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch, who performed ninth, to a Medley by the entertainer, Queen. They were delighted that fifth place in both sections could result in fourth overall. Moore-Towers, who is 20, said “I feel we performed very well. We had a lot of fun, just like on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I was a lot shakier than I would have liked to be, but we put all the elements of our free program together to the best of our ability.”

Moscovitch, who is 28, said, “I am very happy with this program. We always have a lot of fun in Practices. Overall I am very happy.”

5.  Overall 194.64; 4.FS 130.69 (64.75+65.94)  Qing Pang & Jian Tong, two 33 year olds from China, who were the 2006 & 2010 world champions, who earned silver in the Vancouver Olympics. They had a dicey start, in their routine set to “Variations on Elgar’s Enigma Theme,” when the first jump in their sequence of two double Axels turned into a single. She didn’t fall, but their throw triple Salchow late in the routine resulted in four -2s and five -3s.

Tong said, “We skipped the morning practice, because it was very early and we wanted to save the energy for the competition. Today was great and we are very happy with the performance. My knee is not doing well, but it was ok today. Now after the competition I’ll take some time off, for surgery maybe and for recovery.”

Five of their elements were the maximum Level 4. The triple twist and their forward inside death spiral were Level 3. Their components ranged from one 8.75 for Interpretation down to one 7.50 for Transitions.

6.  Overall 191.59; FS 7. 121.61 (56.39+65.22)  Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov, Russians who won the bronze medal in this event in 2009 & 2010, skated next to last, performing to “February” by a relatively unknown composer, Leonid Levashkevich. Their coach, Tamara Moskvina was in Ukraine at a reception when she was handed a disc with the piece by someone saying she was sure the famed coach would find the music interesting and useful, and she did.

Kavaguti, 31, who gave up her Japanese citizenship to become Russian, and Smirnov 28, are from St. Petersburg. They had an immediate problem with the second jump in their sequence of two planned triple toe loops, which resulted in her doing a double and he nearly falling.

He explained later, “I was too close to the boards and it bothered me. Then we skated so well, and I was gathering speed to go into that last lift and there was just not enough room on the ice. It is really a shame. We had practiced that lift here several times on that rink and it went well.” That meant they got no points at all for that move.” That situation was critical and they dropped two places from fourth with a seventh placed ranking in the free. It was a disappointing situation for the pair, who won bronze medals in this event in 2009 & 2010.

7.  Overall 184.72; 6.FS 122.81 (52.41+60.40)  Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov skated delightfully in the Grand Prix Final in December winning silver, but their routine here, set to Khatchaturian’s music for the ballet, Spartacus, was flawed. The 20-year-old Bazarova said their performance was better than their Short Program but complained about the size of the rink. In North America almost all ice surfaces comply with ice hockey regulations, and that is narrower than the European Olympic-sized venues.

She explained, “It was strange to skate here though because we are not used to this rink size. Moreover, this was a hard competition for us. Indeed we had tough start to this season as well.” She had a very bad hip injury which meant they had to withdraw at the start of the season from the Nebelhorn Trophy. Doctors said she should have an operation but would be off the ice for at least four months which she nixed. Then, prior to this event, she was training in Novi, Michigan (Igor Shpilband’s new rink) and had another fall.

She did praise this event. “The crowd here in Canada is very supportive and helped us to go through the program. We want to thank our coach Viktor Kudriavtsev for all the work he has done with us in this season.” However, their sixth place in the Free 1.12 above their teammates, Kavaguti & Smirnov, were not enough to advance them from their Short Program placement.

8.  Overall 180.17; 8.FS 119.19 (61.38+57.81)  Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres, the French champions, have made considerable progress this season. She and her twin were born in Canada, but raised in the United States, where her twin and mother still live. Because of her father’s heritage, James was able to compete briefly in Britain, winning the national title in 2006 when Jenna McCorkell wasn’t able to defend due to a back injury. However, after losing that title the following season, she scuttled over to France and became a pair skater. Cipres is her second partner and had no pairs experience when they teamed up. However, in London, their career took a major leap forward and they were the top non-Russian European pair.

He explained, “We reached our goal and kept that 8th place we were in after the short program. Next year France will have two spots in the championships, which will make things easier for us. Furthermore, I am very proud of my partner, she did an amazing job today despite some little mistakes. Last year we finished in 15th place, so it is a lot of progress. We competed a lot this season and I just remember positive things from it.”

James, who is 25, added, “We did well today. I am satisfied with this performance. I did two mistakes on jumps (with the landing of the triple Salchow and doubling the first jump in their planned triple toe loop to two double toe loops.) But the rest of the program was good and 119 points is a very good score. It makes a good finish to the season. For next season, we will change our programs and work on more difficult elements to put them in our programs in the future.”

9.  Overall 117.78; 9.FS 173.51 (61.15+56.63)  Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim, a fresh new paring who were teamed up last April by Dalilah Sappenfield, train in Colorado Springs. They are the substitutes for last season’s champions, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who couldn’t skate here because of his hip injury. Scimeca has a foot injury of her own and will now take time off to let it heal.

Scimeca, a 21-year old from San Diego, explained, “We’re really fortunate we got the opportunity to come here. If John had not been injured, we’d be cheering for them, and now they are doing the same for us. We’re all a team there at the rink (in Colorado Springs) so we don’t want anyone to do worse. We came here and we put out two good performances like we wanted to do. We represented United States figure skating pretty well.”

Skating seventh of the 16 pairs who advanced to the Free Skate, to “Life is Beautiful”, they advanced from 12th after the Short Program. Their routine opened with a Level 3 triple twist which was sensational and earned two of the maximum +3 Grades of Execution. The rest of the panel of judges punched in 2 and the remaining official gave +1 Grade of Execution.

But then they messed up their throw triple flip. Scimeca explained, “That was a wake-up call. But we train our programs every day and there’s always something new happening. We were prepared for it. No surprises.” They followed that with side-by-side triple Salchows which earned their base value, then their first lift which earned +0.57 over its base value. Their Level 3 death spiral earned an extra +0.90 and their throw triple loop received +0.80.

A sequence of double Axel to double toe loop, set for when the 10% bonus marks click in for jumps and lifts, received +0.50 GoE, while their flying change foot combination spin was rewarded with Level 4 and +0.64. Their Group 4 lift gained the maximum Level along with +0.43. Their choreographed section was rewarded with an extra +0.60. Then came two Level 4 moves. The Axel Lasso was given an extra 1.10 and the pair combination spin gained an extra 0.21. Their components ranged from two 7.75s down to two 6.25.

The 25-year old Knierim said, “We got the levels we were going for so we are very happy. We didn’t know that until we got off the ice. Bit, in the program, everything felt really good. We were relaxed. It was like another day at the office. We’ve been focusing on making sure we get the levels and doing everything that’s needed so there’s no gray area.

Scimeca said, “Dalilah keeps track daily of our program run throughs so we’re able to see if we miss something or not. We try to make everything consistent with our levels. We’re going to take a mini-vacation/break for my foot. We’re going to visit family and let my foot heal then get busy for next season.”

She fell in warm up, “I wasn’t shaken by my warm up. I was comfortable with it because I’ve had pretty messy warm ups before. It doesn’t bother me because it’s something that I do. I get my legs under me. It’s not surprising to Chris and me because in past competitions, I’ve messed up everything on the warm up. It didn’t frighten me at all.

“Dalilah is the best match for me. She understands my personality and how to coach me. She’s trained Chris for seven years. Together we make a great team.”

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