by Klaus Reinhold Kany
Photos by Robin Ritoss
(31 January 2016) Two years after their two Olympic gold medals (in the team event and in the individual competition) and their last victory at Europeans, Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov are back and easily won their fourth European title with 222.66 points. They competed in front of no less than about 10,000 enthusiastic spectators, which is perhaps a record for pair skating at Europeans. The organizers even added some front rows which were originally planned as a walking space around the rink. They printed 500 more tickets overnight and sold 400 of them just minutes before the event.
Volosozhar & Trankov had had to sit out last season because Trankov underwent shoulder surgery in the fall of 2014 which took a long time to heal. He explained: “When we started to practice at the beginning of the season we started to learn our lifts from the beginning because my right hand didn’t work at all for more than eight months. I had no power and for all the elements which I had to do with my right hand it was a very big problem. It was a very hard and nervous time for us.”
But in September they were in relatively good shape and won Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany and the short program at the Bompard Trophy in Bordeaux. This at the end was counted as the final result when the free program was cancelled because of the terror attacks in Paris.
Trankov continued: “Tania was injured right before the Grand Prix in France, so we went without the throw. After the Grand Prix in France we went back home and the doctor said that she cannot do throws with her injury. That was why we missed NHK. We had time to prepare for Nationals and we did well there.”
In Bratislava, their Bollywood short program was successful although Volosozhar suffered from a cold and cancelled the exhibition. The triple twist in the short was excellent, the triple Salchow good, the triple throw flip landed on two feet and the step sequence got a level 4. The components had an average of 9.3, with one 10 for interpretation as maximum. They chose the music of the soundtrack of “Dracula” for their free program.
Trankov had explained earlier in the season: “In the Olympic season, I played Jesus in the hippie musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”. The next season, I wanted to do the opposite. But we had to leave out the whole last season, so we chose the music of last season for this season. We could not find any suitable music about devils or the hell, so I play Dracula.”
Most of their free program elements were very good again, especially the triple twist and the triple throw loop, but four elements had only a level 3 instead of the planned level 4 and Trankov stepped out of the triple toe loop. The technical panel with David Kirby (USA) as technical specialist and Alexander Kuznetsov (Russia) as his assistant was quite strict with the levels for everyone.
Trankov likes to criticize things which are not as he likes them. Therefore he said: “It was a very hard start of the day. We had early practice, then we stayed here in the rink before the free program because we had no time to go back to the hotel. Because of this situation our skating was not the best, but it was not bad. With the crazy schedule Europeans had since 2014, the main goal for all couples is just to finish the free program, not to skate clean. I don’t know why in recent years organizers have done this schedule for pairs with competitions in the morning. Last year it was a horrible thing. We were not there, but the pairs skated their free program in the morning after the banquet. But schedules like this are within the rules and have to follow the rules. Everybody is in the same situation.” But he also said something positive: “I am thrilled that the big rink was full of spectators today although there was no Slovak pair. It shows that spectators like pair skating.”
Two other Russian top pairs withdrew from Europeans and made it easier for Volosozhar & Trankov to win gold and for Savchenko & Massot to win silver.
Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov, Tamara Moskvina’s pair from St. Petersburg and third at the Grand Prix Final six weeks ago, withdrew about ten days earlier after Kavaguti tore her Achilles tendon while warming up off ice before a practice session at home. It will take at least several months to heal a tore Achilles tendon and this might be the end of their competitive career. Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov came in their place instead.
Also, two days before Europeans, Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov, winners of the Grand Prix Final, withdrew citing a shoulder injury of Klimov. They were replaced by Kristzina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov who finished seventh.
Europeans were the first big competition for five time world champion Aliona Savchenko (with Robin Szolkowy) with her new French partner Bruno Massot. They have trained together since springtime of 2014, but he was released from France only after a long fight with the French federation and after the German federation paid 30,000 Euros (about 35,000 U.S. dollars) to the French federation. The skaters have to pay back part of this money to their federation after winning prize money and money from exhibitions. They easily won their first three competitions in the late fall, the Tallinn Trophy, the Warsaw Cup and German Nationals. Savchenko is the only skater who had already skated at the previous European championships in Bratislava which were held in 2001, at that time with her former partner Stanislav Morozov.
This time, Savchenko and Massot performed a very good short program to “Creature du Siam” from the Cirque du Soleil, in spite of Savchenko suffering from some back pain after a hard fall in practice at home one week before. Both skaters’ triple toe loop was a bit shaky, but all other elements excellent. The triple twist in both programs is even outstanding because Massot can throw her much higher than Szolkowy ever did. Six of the nine judges rewarded it with a +3 for GOE in the short and even eight of nine in the free program. The triple throw flip was excellent and landed on one foot as well.
Savchenko can speak English much better and quite fluently now because for 15 months she lives together with her friendly and often funny British fiancé Liam Cross, in Oberstdorf, Germany and contributes to the relaxed atmosphere. She said about the crowd: “It was a great joy for me to see all these people again that I missed in the past two years. I am so happy to be back competing in big events.”
The beginning of their free program to a modern version of the "Peer Gynt Suite" was outstanding again, because they performed the triple twist. But then Massot doubled the first of two planned triple toe loops. The next five elements were of world class again, including the Axel Lasso lift. Savchenko two-footed the landing of the triple throw flip a bit. But it was more costly when Massot could not lift Savchenko correctly and they had to finish the loop lift abnormally, which meant they got no points for it.
At the end they also got zero points for the third lift because Massot did not push Savchenko up without hesitation, but went one or two inches down with his knee while lifting her, which is forbidden. The decision not to award them any points for this lift is within the rules, but very strict, as the hesitation was tiny.
The Germans still won the silver medal and would not have placed higher without these mistakes. But Massot was quite upset afterwards: “I have no explanation because I never miss a lift. We were ready. I am in great shape, and we mastered this program. If anything, it may be more psychological.” He added that like Trankov he thought the timing of this free program was a bit strange and they had not much time after the practice to relax. But one hour later both were happy after realizing they had won a silver medal at their first European championship together.
The bronze medal (197.55) went to the first alternates Vladimir Morozov and his partner Evgenia Tarasova, who, by the way, was wrongly written as Tatiana Tarasova (the famous coach) in the music rotation sheet, which made all those who saw itsmile. They are within Nina Mozer’s pair skating school and work mainly with Andrei Hekalo and part time also with German five time world champion Robin Szolkowy.
Their short program was clean, with the triple twist as special highlight. In the long, most elements were good and they even had the second best free program. But it was not enough for the silver medal because both missed the third jump in their three-jump combination and Tarasova stepped out of the triple throw loop. They had trained the quad twist, but they said as the competition was in the morning, they decided not to risk it this time.
French champions Vanessa James & Morgan Ciprès placed fourth, earning 185.55 points. For two weeks before Europeans they had not only worked with their usual coach Claude Thévenard, but also with Polish pair coach Mariusz Siudek who had come to Paris. In the short program, James fell out of the death spiral, but the other elements were good. Ten of their 12 elements in the free program were clean, but James doubled the second toe loop of her planned combination of two triple toe loops, and she also stepped out of the throw quad Salchow, but still got 6.20 points for this element. They were the only pair to try any quad.
Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek were only second at Italian Nationals before Christmas, but beat their national competitors in Bratislava and finished fifth with 182.61 points. In the short, Marchei fell on the triple throw Lutz, but the long was quite good and skated with good emotions. The new Italian champions Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise placed sixth position, earning 178.97 points.
The second German pair Mari Vartmann & Ruben Blommaert did their first European championships together and finished eighth with 171.30 points. Vartmann had competed with U.S. skater Aaron van Cleave until Worlds 2015. The short program was flawless and quite elegant, but in the long Blommaert, who normally is a very solid pair skater, fell on the triple Salchow (while Vartmann doubled it), and could not lift his partner in the last minute. Vartmann said this might have happened because of the strange time schedule and suggested to change it for next year. The Austrian pair Miriam Ziegler & Severin Kiefer, ninth in Bratislava with 149.07 points, are the third pair in the world to land a clean side-by-side triple Lutz.
Anna Marie Pearce & Mark Magyar train in Geneva, IL in the Chicago area under Stefania Berton and her husband Rockne Brubaker, but compete for Hungary because of his citizenship. They were 14th of the 16 pairs. The British pair Amani Fancy & Christopher Boyadji withdrew. They had split in September during the Nebelhorn Trophy, reunited in October, did two competitions, and definitely split finally in December again.