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Free Skate Turns Pairs Event on It's Head

by George Rossano

(15 February 2018)  What was thought would be a predictable Pairs event was thrown off course in the the Short Program when Aljona Savchenko & Bruno Massot placed fourth, 5.8 points behind the leaders, and was today turned on it's head as Savchenko & Massot turned in the only clean skate of the top four teams, to win the gold medal by 0.43 points.  At the other end of the spectrum, it was a bad day for U.S. skaters Alexa Scimeca-Knierim & Chris Knierim who dropped one place, to finish fifteenth in the event.

Savchenko & Massot knew they needed a strong clean skate to win or even move back up onto the podium for any medal, and that is what they did, throwing down a near perfect skate as the first team in the last warm-up group of the event.  Their weakest element was the triple Salchow that Massot doubled in the short program.  Today it was landed cleanly, though with the lowest GoEs of their elements - two 1s and seven 2s.  They were the only team of the top group that achieved level 4 on all seven of the leveled elements, and their opening triple twist received all 3s from the nine judges.  Their components averaged 9.66, the best of the group.

Skating to "La Terre Vue du Ciel" (The Earth Seen from the Sky), they skated with emotion and power, with an interaction and relationship well above the other teams.  Being first to skate, the team then watched the remaining competitors backstage, waiting to see if their season's best effort, and free skating record score) would be good enough.

Fighting back after the short, Aljona said "I was positive after yesterday.  I said to Bruno, we will write history today.  And then everything happened as I had imagined it and it came true."  Bruno further explained, "It was hard for me yesterday, but Aljona was there for me.  She said, 'It is not finished.  We still have the free program to come.'  We did a gold medal program, we broke the record.  It is amazing to come from fourth to first, it is incredible.

Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford skated next.  They opened with a fairly strong triple twist, but on their subsequent solo triple Lutzes Duhamel put her hand down on the landing.  The remainder of the program to "Hometown Glory" was well skated, but they missed level fours on their twist and the closing back outside death spiral.  The team also completed the first throw quad in Olympic competition, a quad Salchow.  Their components averaged 9.18, the lowest of the top four teams.  Following their skate they sat in second place, and it looked like they might miss the podium with two strong teams left to skate.

"I had a little mishap on the Lutz but the quad throw was going so well in training," Duhamel said.  "I didn't even question it and I said, 'No, you are landing this.' I wasn't surprised.  I said, 'Now I have to go on to the next thing.' "

The highly favored Chinese team of Wenjing Sui & Cong Han skated third, and quickly got into trouble.  They opened with a quad twist with the catch a little on the shoulder of Han, though the element was still scored positive, but with comparatively low GoEs (-1 through 2).  On the subsequent jump combination Han singled the middle jump, planned as a double.  The panel nailed them for unequal rotations.  Then of triple Salchow Sui had a poor landing and stepped out of the jump.  The remainder of the program, skated to "Nessun Dorma" was cleanly skated with the GoEs all 2s and 3s.  Only four of the seven leveled elements achieved level 4.

 Their program components averaged 9.60.  Their performance did not have the passion that such powerful and familiar music needed, though the second half was considerably stronger in that respect than the first.  Following their performance that sat in second place, with one to go.  As such they were assured at least the silver, depending on that final skate, and Duhamel & Radford were still at risk of dropping off the podium.

Sui has been training and competing with considerable pain from her injuries.  She said, "I considered taking some medications before going on today.  We wanted to exceed ourselves."  Han elaborated on Sui's condition, "It's something we have to manage every day.  On a scale of one to ten, the pain is probably at a seven or eight.  We've stopped doing some of he harder moves in training and only did simple moves in practice this morning."

The final team to skater were Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov.  They also opened with a quad twist, which was a bit under-rotated and had a late (low) catch.  It received GoEs of 0s and 1s, and one 2 from the Hungarian judge who has been giving out squirrely marks all week.  On triple Salchow Tarasova doubled the jump, and on throw triple Salchow she fell, and at that point the Germans had won the gold.  The remainder of the program was clean, but received lesser GoEs than the other teams in the final group.  Five of the seven leveled elements achieved level four.

Skating to "Candyman" their program components averaged 9.27, third best of the group, but not high enough to be of much help to them.  The second half of their program had no spark.  They skated like the air had been sucked out of their performance and they knew they had lost their chance for the Gold, or maybe even any flavor of medal.  It was written all over their faces at the end of the program.  They finished in fourth place, 5.22 points off the podium.  In Technical score alone for the free skate, they trailed the Germans by 11.99 points.

After the event Duhamel & Radford confirmed their retirement, and tht they will not be doing Worlds in Milan.  Savchenko & Massot and Sui & Han both said they would compete at Worlds.  Sui & Han also indicated they will continue skating through to the Beijing Winter Games in 2022.

Attendance was about 50% of a full house (4100 of 8200).  True to form thus far, the audience arrived late, and a small fraction of the audience left after the group in which the North Korean team skated.

Copyright 2018 by George S. Rossano