by Tatiana Flade
Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy of Germany have been a dominant force in pair skating in the past decade. They are one of the most successful pairs teams in history and capped off their amazing career of 11 years with their fifth world title. Only the legendary Irina Rodnina with her second partner Alexander Zaitsev has won more world titles, six to be exact. Savchenko & Szolkowy also tied the record of eight consecutive world medals held by Liudmila Belusova & Oleg Protopopov. Rodnina & Zaitsev competed in the 70s, Belusova & Protopopov in the 60s and the sport has evolved a lot since then concerning the degree of difficulty of elements. But it is not only about collecting medals. Savchenko & Szolkowy and their coach and choreographer Ingo Steuer have pushed the limits technically and artistically as well and truly contributed to the development of the sport.
“I truly respect them for what they have done. When I just started pairs with another partner I remember watching them and we tried to copy some elements. We really looked up to them. They had a lot of interesting programs in their career and new elements that they brought into our discipline and I thank them for that“, the new World silver medalist Fedor Klimov said at the press conference after the Pairs free. "Meagan and I were saying right before getting on the podium that we were very honored to be able to stand on the podium twice with Aliona and Robin. I remember watching them on TV way back in 2005 and then I was lucky enough to train with them. They really brought a lot of innovation and a whole new dynamic to pair skating“, now two-time bronze medalist Eric Radford agreed.
The Germans won the title without much trouble and almost perfect performances. They took the lead in the short with their “Pink Panther” program that they had debuted at the Olympic Games. The throw triple flip was huge, the side by side triple toes solid, the reverse lasso beautiful. The triple twist, never their favorite element, was not bad either. The two-time Olympic bronze medalists scored 79.02 points. “It didn’t feel like it was the last short program of our career. It was really hard to stay in the ice rink all day (after practice). To skate like this after not much sleep is okay,” Savchenko, who suffered from jet lag, said. “I wanted to enjoy it, the first three elements were work, the rest was to enjoy. Even before we started I noticed that the people really like us, maybe even love us, and it was fun. It was the right decision to come here and to show it all,” Szolkowy added.
Canadians Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford were second in the short with a strong performance of their program to “Tribute,” the music that Radford had composed himself to honor his late coach Paul Wirtz and everybody else who supported them throughout their career. The World bronze medalists produced the technically most difficult program with a triple Lutz as solo jump and also had a triple twist, throw triple Lutz and level-four elements like the Germans. The couple from Montreal was awarded a new personal best of 77.01 points. “We are really happy about how we skated today, but we came here to this world championship on a mission to complete a clean long program so we are very focused for tomorrow and today was just a bonus. This year we haven’t skated our best in competition, so we came here to do our best and we hope to be rewarded with a place of the podium it doesn’t matter if it is third, second or first place. We hope to do a clean long tomorrow and be sitting somewhere here,” Duhamel said.
Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov of Russia delivered an excellent short program as well. Skating to Flamenco music, they hit a triple toe, throw triple flip and three level-four elements to pick up a personal best of 76.15 points. “We are happy with our skate, we did good elements and we hope to skate clean tomorrow,” Klimov said. “It was kind of difficult to prepare for this championship. We spent a lot of power and emotions in Sochi (at the Olympic Winter Games). But the last two weeks we tried to focus on practice and tried to get into a good condition,” he continued.
The overall level was really high. The two Chinese duos Wenjing Sui & Cong Han and Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang were ranked fourth and fifth with 72.24 points and 71.68 points respectively with clean performances. Sui & Han’s routine to “La Strada” was highlighted by a throw triple flip and their triple twist. Peng & Zhang impressed with their huge triple twist as well and their throw triple loop. Both teams also landed side by side triple toes. Sui still wasn’t a 100 percent satisfied, since the death spiral and the footwork merited a level three instead of the planned level four. “Today’s performance was quite good, but two elements were not perfect and hopefully we can do them better tomorrow. Our goal is always to give our best,” she noted. Her partner expressed his hope that they might finish third. Peng was very pleased with everything. “The score is not so important for us, we want to skate to the best of our ability and this is the most important thing for us,” she pointed out.
Another strong short program came from Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch of Canada. They placed sixth with 69.31 points. “We haven't seen our report card yet, but we're very happy with our skate. It was a bit of a lower score than we have been getting recently. We'll check a couple of things but overall we’re going to go into tomorrow with a positive attitude,” Moore-Towers said.
Russia’s Vera Bazarova & Juri Larionov struggled with the solo jumps as so often. This time she touched down on her underrotated triple toe. They were ranked seventh with 67.41 points. “There was a small error on the jump. We cannot be pleased with this performance,” she said. Her partner sounded more positive: “Basically in our performance today all the elements were there. We skated easily and we did all the pair elements well,” he commented.
The relatively new team of Julia Antipova & Nodari Maisuradze, also from Russia, had an excellent debut at Worlds in the short program. Skating to “Beethoven’s Fifth” by the Piano Guys, they completed a huge triple twist, throw triple flip and a nice Axel lasso lift at the end of the program to score 66.78 points. They were ranked eighth. „We found out two weeks ago that we are definitely going. We prepared well, but Julia was a bit sick. Technically and physically we are well prepared, but mentally we still need to get stronger,” Maisuradze said. “The jump elements were very good today, the cleanest in the season. I don’t feel at all that we are at a World Championship. Everything is so calm, there are not many spectators, it feels like a Grand Prix,” his partner added. Although the Saitama Super Arena was sold out every day, the morning and afternoon sessions with the pairs and ice dancers were not full. These spectators only arrived for the evening sessions to watch men’s and ladies.
The French Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres had a shaky triple twist, but the other elements were good and they were ninth (64.01 points). “It was a little shaky but we were pretty good and we are happy. The score, it corresponded to what we did, these are tiny mistakes but we are satisfied. We have been practising very well and the practices are good for the confidence for tomorrow. Worlds is important for us just to continue to see where we are,” James commented.
Stefania Berton & Ondrej Hotarek of Italy also made just smaller mistakes on the triple twist and she two-footed the throw triple loop, but at this high level that was enough to put them into tenth place. “I think we can be happy with the performance even with the struggle with the throw because we could save the elements. I think it was a little bit disappointing with the points,” Berton shared.
Twenty-three couples competed and the top 16 advanced to the free skating. One of the teams that didn’t make it were Narumi Takahashi & Ryuichi Kihara of Japan, who placed 17th in the short.
In the free, Savchenko & Szolkowy had drawn to skate first in the final flight. Their “Nutcracker,” at the same time their last competitive performance, was a real treat. The four-time European Champions opened with their trademark throw triple twist, followed by a triple toe-triple toe sequence. They produced also a triple twist, beautiful lifts and ended with a throw triple Salchow as the last element. The only glitch came when they both singled the Axel, but it didn’t really matter and it was even perfectly synchronized. The Germans earned 145.86 points and totaled 224.88 points. “We are very happy about this result. The fifth title, that is quite amazing. We did a very good performance yesterday and a very good performance today. It's great to be at this competition and skate in front of all these fantastic spectators over here in Japan. It was definitely worth it and I'm quite happy to have such a competition as last memory of time of competitive skating,” Szolkowy said. “I hardly can believe it. It is over now and that is so weird. To be honest, I felt like I was skating in an exhibition gala,” Savchenko noted. She only had regrets about the single Axel. The Germans and Anitpova & Maisuradze were the only teams that had six “highlight elements “ (jumps, throws or lifts in pair skating) in the second half of their program which got them bonus points.
During Worlds it became public that Savchenko wants to continue her career with Bruno Massot of France (who was ranked 15th with his partner Daria Popova). Szolkowy wanted to retire from competing. He was interested in skating in shows for a while though.
Stolbova & Klimov proved again that they have gained consistency. Their solid “Addams Family” program featured a triple toe-double toe-double toe combination, a throw triple flip and Salchow as well as level-four lifts and spins, but overall the Olympic silver medalists looked a bit tired and not as energized as in Sotchi. They received 139.77 points and moved up from third to second at 215.92 points overall. “We did everything what we can do and I think it is great that we skated that way. I just thought, that’s it the season is over. We knew it won’t be easy (to win) and we came here with the goal to skate clean,” Stolbova told the press. “It (skating here) was difficult by principle, because there was not much of a break in between practice and competition. Yesterday we were able to recover, but today not so much and we showed nerves,” Klimov added. Stolbova & Klimov had debuted at World Championships.
Duhamel & Radford had moved their second solo jump, a triple Salchow (in combination with two double toes), into the first half to make life a bit easier for them, but Duhamel still crashed. The rest of their performance to “Alice in Wonderland” was good though, and included a triple twist, a side by side triple Lutz, throw triple Lutz and loop. They picked up a level four for the lifts, spins and death spiral. The 2013 Four Continents Champions scored a personal best of 133.83 points which added up to 210.84 points overall. “We are very happy with our skate. We had a little mistake but we really kept it together, fought really hard, and managed to finish the program strongly. We have a lot more we want to do (next season) and we want to add a flip in the long so we have a flip and a Lutz. You’ll see us again next year,” Radford promised. “We had a great competition. Not only did we skate the best we have all year, but the scores for short and long were the best that we’ve had internationally and the highest artistic scores we’ve ever had,” Duhamel pointed out. Duhamel & Radford
Their teammates Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch finished fourth and were ranked third in the free. Their “La Strada” program was clean with triple throws, a triple toe-triple toe sequence and a triple Salchow. The judges gave them 136.21 points which added up to 205.52 points overall. “Oh that rocked! It was so much. I’m so grateful to Japan for really pulling us through this week. I wouldn’t say we had a hard week but I think for everybody it’s a little bit tough after the Olympics. I really think we made the most of it,” a radiant Kirsten told the press. Moscovitch looked already into the future: “I think even before we got here we knew we haven’t maxed out; there’s definitely more in the tank and there is definitely more that we can bring out with our skating. This (Worlds) just reaffirms it for us but we definitely have more to give,” he explained.
Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang of China remained in fifth place with 194.83 points. Their quad twist was a highlight as were their two other throws, but she fell on a cheated triple toe. “I think today we performed very well. This season we made a lot of efforts, we got better and better from day to day. We made clear in the results that we trained hard every day. We did some mistakes but for us these are only small things so that we can cover up these deficits. And next season we want to show our improved program,” Zhang noted. Peng said that she felt more nervous than in the short program.
Wenjing Sui & Cong Han’s hopes to reach the podium were smashed as they made several errors. They dropped from fourth to sixth with 192.10 points. Maybe they didn’t cope with skating last. The opening quad twist was fine, but she missed both solo jumps and his Salchow was just a double, and she also stepped out of the throw triple flip. ”Today we did not skate well and we could not show our best. We did some mistakes and three of them were very big mistakes that affected our score, we lost a lot of points. I felt the pressure to skate at the end and I am disappointed that it did not go well today with our free program,” Sui admitted. “Until today we had some problems in the practice and we haven’t solved them yet. In competitions it comes out that these little problems can lead to such a great loss. That is what we have learned from this competition. We see this as one of our experiences but moreover it was an important experience to skate with the top pairs in the last warm up group, in addition that we were the last skaters of the group,” her partner explained.
Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov remained in seventh place at 189.44 points. Bazarova fell on the triple toe, which was again underrotated, and he almost dropped her on the exit of the reverse lasso lift. “Vera was supposed to do a full turn around me and she didn’t and she was too far behind my back. But there was no fall or touch down,” Larionov said about the lift. Bazarova walked through the mixed zone without commenting. “In training it went quite well, but in competition it is a completely different pressure mentally and you feel different physically and things don’t go the way you want. Today it was difficult even in practice. It is a shame,” Larionov added. Later a reliable Russian source told the author of this article that the couple is going to split on Larionov’s initiative, but so far there was no official confirmation for this.
Julia Antipova & Nodari Maisuradze put out a quad twist as well, so three couples successfully performed this element at Worlds for the first time in history. Their triple Salchow-double toe was good as well as was the throw triple Lutz, but they grew tired in the second half of their Pink Floyd and ACDC program and they struggled with the triple toe and the throw triple loop. “Today we made a few serious errors, but overall our debut was successful. We had a difficult beginning of the season and the season shouldn’t have been like this at all, except for our participation at the World Championship of course. We hope to skate better next year. Many things the spectators don’t even see, like the levels, but they are important to us. You might not fall on a single element and do everything on level one,” Maisuradze told the press. “At the end of your performance you think, it was quite good, you didn’t fall, but then you think, you didn’t do this and you didn’t do that,” Antipova added. The Muscovites finished eighth at 186.22 points.
Italy’s Stefania Berton & Ondrej Hotarek pulled up one spot to tenth with 184.28 points. Their somber “Dracula” free program was solid, there were just little errors on the side by side spin and side by side triple Salchow. “Overall it was a great performance I think that gives us a lot of confidence and it is a great satisfaction after how much we trained. It’s what we trained for,” Hotarek stated. “We hope that next time we skate in Japan that there is more prestige (for pair skating) and that we can skate in the afternoon,” he pointed out. True, the pairs short started at 10 in the morning and the free at 11.30, and the audience was not yet full.
Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres of France slipped from ninth to tenth although they were ranked eighth in the free skating (183.90 points). It just showed how close the teams were to each other. The French continued strongly after a bad catch on the triple twist right at the beginning. However, he dropped her from the carry position of the final lift and she hit her already bruised hip, which apparently was very painful. ”We feel good we did very good program except for the last element on the end it was not a big mistake. It is the end of the season so she can rest and me too. We are happy about what we did. Now we have future in front of us,” Cipres said.
Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir (USA) finished 11th. She fell on the quad throw Salchow while he doubled both solo jumps. Felica Zhang & Nathan Bartholomy placed 14th, The U.S. earned two spots for 2015 Worlds.