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2013 Grand Prix Final, Senior Pairs

by Alexandra Stevenson

German Former World Pairs Champions Oust Russians Volosozhar & Trankov

1.  Overall 227.03; 2.SP 79.46 (44.60+35.86 -1.0); 1.FS 147.57 (74.36+73.21) Four-time world champions (2008, 2009, 2011 & 2012), Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy, from the former Karl Marx Stadt, which returned to its previous name of Chemnitz when the Soviet Union dissolved, are now back on top. They were dethroned at the world championships last March by Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov.

Here in Fukuoka, the Germans lay second after the Short Program. Technically, they were almost tied with only 0.36 separating the two duos on the elements score. But, on the far more subjective “component” awards, they trailed by 1.83. That changed in the Free Skate.

Both women are actually Ukrainian, but now have the nationality of their partners. Savchenko got her German citizenship in 2006 after living in that country for some years. Volosozhar represented Ukraine in the 2010 Olympic Games, placing eighth. Moscow fast tracked her residency papers, but the rules of the International Skating Union required that she had to “sit out” a year. She and her former partner came to an agreement NOT to compete in the 2010 World championships. That meant her year on the sidelines would finish a short time before the 2011 world championships, in which she and Trankov earned silver behind Savchenko & Szolkowy.

They are not young. Savchenko turns 30 on January 13, and Volosozhar is 27. Szolkowy is 34 and Trankov 30. The Russians have already indicated this will be their last year of competition. The Germans were originally planning to become professional after the last Olympics, but decided to continue after earning “only” the bronze in Vancouver.

Savchenko & Szolkowy’s music for the Short Program was “When Winter Comes” and they were both attired in white with a little light blue. They received all Level 4s, the maximum, but got “only” 14 of the maximum +3s Grades of Execution, to the Russians’ 23. The score was a personal best, although they lost a point due to a timing violation. Szolkowy explained, “We were pleased we are improving. The timing violation can happen. We reconstructed our program and made a little change to the music. If, in the end, we’d lose a placement because of this one point, it would be upsetting.” Savchenko added, “That performance was quite good, especially for the first run through of the new version.”

For their Free, the Germans selected music Tchaikovsky wrote for the ballet, “The Nutcracker”. All of their 12 elements received positive Grades of Execution. The opening move, the throw triple flip, was dazzling and earned three +3s with the rest of the judging panel giving the next highest mark, +2.

Their side-by side triple toe loop solo jumps were perfectly synchronized and gained seven +2s and two +1s. Their back outside death spiral, which involved a change of hand holds, received the top Level 4 with two +3s and seven +2s. That resulted in a full 1.50 being added to the move’s base value. After their Level 3 change foot combination spin, they presented their “Choreographed Section”, and then he threw her into a Level 3 Lateral triple twist. Their double Axels matched beautifully.

They then executed with machine-like proficiency, two very complicated, very well done Level 4 lifts. The reverse Lasso was good enough for an extra +1.30 to be added to the base value. One judge was moved enough to give that element a +3 GoE. Their Group 4 lift, which followed, was also of top standard, and the judges showered the effort with five +3s. After a Level 4 pair combination spin, their last lift received two +3s. They ended with a throw triple Salchow in which she soared so high, yet landed so softly the judges rewarded them with five +3s.

Savchenko said, “I am really happy with tonight’s performance. I enjoyed skating. It was not easy but nothing is easy. We are back. We will work hard and keep doing our best.” They earned gold by a 3.20 margin. Szolkowy added, “It was a long four and a half minutes and it was hard.” The last time they had beaten Volosozhar & Trankov was in the 2012 World championships.

“The decision to take out the throw triple Axel (which they did in the last world championship), was a good one. We take it step by step. We had the first Grand Prix, which was our first competition of the season (which they won in China) and that let us see where we were from a readiness point of view. The second Grand Prix in Moscow (which they also won) was a little better. Here, was the first time we meet the best teams in the world. We are really happy to win here but I think everybody is looking towards Sochi. That is what counts!”

In the exhibition program, they did their encore to “We are the Champions”.

2.  Overall 223.83; 1.SP 82.65 (44.96+37.69); 2.FS 141.18 (67.96+74.22 -1) Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, the current world champions from Moscow, performed last of the six pairs from five countries in the Short Program, giving a flowing, graceful showing with great speed, and technical accuracy, set to Khatchaturian’s poignant, powerful Masquerade Waltz.

Four of the seven elements in the Short Program receive Level assessments from the Technical Panel, and the Russians earned the maximum 4 for all of them. They opened with a triple twist, which wowed the crowd and mesmerized the judges, seven of whom punched in the maximum possible Grade of Execution, +3, while the other two judges gave +2, the next step down.

That was followed by side-by-side triple toe loops which also were flawlessly matched and elicited two +3s with the rest of the panel giving +2s. Their throw triple loop was incredibly high and she landed very securely with amazing lightness leading to unanimous +3s. Their back inside death spiral was textbook perfect with seven of the panel giving +2, one punching in +3 and the remaining judge giving +1. Six judges gave the pair combination spin +2 while the other three were a little less impressed, punching in +1. Their Group 5 reverse entry lasso lift received four +2s and five +1s.

They concluded the 2 minute fifty second routine with their straight line steps earning five +3s and four +2s. Their 45 component marks ranged from one 10.00 for choreography/composition/Interpretation down to two 8.75s for Transitions/Linking Footwork, and, in this category, there were ranked first, 1.01 ahead of the Germans, but their technical score was third best, 1.86 behind Pang & Tong.

Trankov said, “We were able to do a clean program in the past three competitions (the Nebelhorn Trophy, and the two Grand Prix events which qualified them for this Final) and we are very happy about it. At first, we were very nervous because this is the last competition before the Olympics where all of the top skaters from the world come together. We were able to skate very well.”

But their Free, set to music from “Jesus Christ, Superstar” did not go so well. After a spectacular start with a Level 5 triple twist which earned unanimous +3s, she fell on their side by side triple Salchow and stumbled on their side by side triple toe loops which had been planned as a combination with a double toe loop. She explained, “I was more nervous for the Short Program. I even had a good feeling just before the start of Free. So, I was very upset about the fall.”

They got back in stride with a Level 3, +1.50 forward inside death spiral and Level 4, +1.07 flying camel combination spin, both of which received two +3 GoEs. At the halfway stage they did a spectacular throw triple loop, which was rewarded with seven +3s and two +2s. Their “choreographed” section received unanimous +2s, and their second throw, a triple Salchow, was showered with eight +3s and a solitary +2 GoE. Their Axel Lasso lift with a reverse entry was awarded unanimous +2s. Their pair combination spin was only Level 2, but their finish, two spectacular lifts, both of which received two +3s was magnificent.

Their “Components” were 1.01 ahead of their German rivals, but their “Elements” score was a very significant 7.40 lower. Trankov said, “We haven’t been defeated for a year so it is a pity that we couldn’t win the Final.

“Nothing was wrong for both of us but the performance didn’t go all right, so we will start over again. I felt like as if I was skating in Russia as the audience welcomed us so warmly. Especially, I saw some of the audiences were having a yellow flag and it moved me a lot. We made mistakes and it was not our very best. We do not usually miss these jumps. We are happy about our skate anyways, because we felt fresh and we were able to keep a good mood even after our mistakes.” Shrugging his shoulders, he added, “Sometimes, we lose at competitions and we lost today.”

3.  Overall 213.98; 3.SP 75.40 (41.59+33.81); 3.FS 138.58 (69.70+68.88) Qing Pang & Jian Tong , China, who are engaged, are also at the end of long competitive careers. He is 34 and she will reach that age on December 12. It was their fellow Chinese pair, Xue Shen & Zhao Hongbo, who, at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, showed that it was possible to be competitive in this demanding sport even at a relatively advanced age when they won gold at the ages of 31 and 36.

Pang & Tong first competed in the world championships in 1999. It took them until 2004 to win a medal, bronze, in that event. They became world champions in 2006 & in 2010, but the amount of injuries they have sustained takes a heavy toll. They are the 2010 Olympic silver medalists. If they compete in Sochi, it will be their fourth Olympic Games. They finished ninth in Salt Lake City in 2002, fourth in Torino in 2006.

They performed their SP to “Lady Caliph”, earning +0.70 over the base value for their triple toe loops. Their triple twist was Level 2 with +1.40 added to the base value. For that move they received only one +3, but their throw triple loop was so spectacular, it received four of this maximum GoE. Their back inside death spiral was Level 3. Their last three elements, the lift, the steps and the spin all earned the top Level 4 with good Grades of Execution. Their components score ranged from a high of three 9.25, all given by the same judge, down to one 7.50. Their score for this section was a Personal Best.

In the closing pose, he kissed his partner and fiancée. “I didn’t expect that I could perform that well so without thinking I kissed her. We did so well today. The performance is becoming more consistent compared to the beginning of the season”, Tong explained.

For the Free Skate, they use “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. They opened with a sequence of two satisfactory double Axels and then a triple toe loop. Their Level 2 triple twist was high and received +2 GoEs from eight of the nine judges, which led to an extra 1.40 being added to the base value of 5.40. The dissenting judge punched in -1. What did he/she see that the others didn’t? Of course, it didn’t matter because that was thrown out as the lowest score, but it does make you think!

Their Level 3 back outside death spiral was good enough for the judges to vote for +1.20 to be added to the base value of 4 points. Their flying change foot combination side by side spin was the top Level 4, but gained only its base value. Next was their “choreographed” section.

Then, at the halfway point where the 10% bonus for jumps and lifts clicks in, they presented a great Axel Lasso reverse entry lift, which earned an extra +1.30, and a spectacular throw triple Salchow which five of the judges thought worthy of the maximum +3 GoE, and the others gave the next highest award of +2. That was immediately followed by their second throw, a triple loop, which earned one +3 with the rest of the judges punching in +2. A Group 5 back entry lift was next which earned seven +2, one +3 and one +1. The final lift was from Group 4 and gained not only Level 4 but one +3, one +1 and the rest +2s. They ran out of energy, however, and their final element, the pair combination spin was only Level 1, although it received six +2s and three +1s. Their Element score beat that of the Russians by 1.86. However, their components, for which the Russians had the best score, were third best.

Tong said, “We are so satisfied. The final spin gave us a little trouble because we did not have a good entry. However, we were able to show everything that we were working on. We actually arrived at the rink late, so we were panicking a bit. And, of course, we were nervous. We will build from this competition to prepare for the Olympics. I have a small knee injury, so I hope that gets better. We have skated in Japan many, many times. We don’t think about the Chinese-Japanese disputes since we are focused so much on competing. We study what the other pairs are developing and work on maximizing our points.”

4.  Overall 197.37; 5.SP 68.87 (39.60+29.27); 4.FS 128.50 (67.62+61.88 -1); Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang, China, who were first to skate in the Short Program, teamed up for last season after his previous partner retired. They placed 11th in their first world championship together. The 29-year old Zhang first competed in the World championship, when they were 9th and Olympic Games in 2002. He is the 2006 Olympic silver medalist. She is 16.They skated their short program to music from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. All of their elements received overall positive Grades of Execution and they even received two of the maximum +3s with the rest of the panel giving +2 for their Level 3 triple twist. One other judge gave them a +3 for their throw triple loop.

After their SP, Zang said, “I am satisfied with the performance today. We’ve been practicing since last year and we are constantly improving. I have been in so many competitions and I am satisfied with what we have done. The most important matter now for us is the harmony.”

Peng said, “I am so happy to be part of this competition. I’ve been practicing a lot but taking part in this competition means a lot to me.”

They lay fifth after the Short Program only 0.10 ahead of the Canadians Moore-Towers & Moscovitch, but advanced a place after their Free, which uses music from the “Yellow River Concerto”. They appeared in yellow with other colors mixed in. They opened with a spectacular Level 2 quad twist which earned two of the maximum +3s, five +2s and a +1 from the judges. That beginning earned them 9.74 points. Their triple to double jump combination of toe loops received an extra +0.80, but she fell on their side-by-side double Axels, which received an arrow. There were no other mistakes in a routine in which they received 4s for all their Level moves and one +3 for their throw triple loop and seven +3s for their throw triple Salchow.

5.  Overall 193.38; 4.SP 73.07 (40.70+32.37); 6.FS 120.31 (60.78+61.53 -2).Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford, are the twice Canadian champions, who won bronze in last year’s world championships. Duhamel will turn 28 on December 8, and Radford is 28. They skated to a musical Tribute to his former coach, which he composed. Three of their elements gained the maximum Level 4. Their unique throw triple Lutz gained +3 from two of the judges. Two judges (including one who had rewarded the throw) gave +3 for their Level 2 back inside death spiral.

Their Free was set to Danny Elfman’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Everlasting” by Two Steps from Hell. Sixth in this portion dropped them to fifth overall. They opened with a Level 2 triple twist which earned +0.70 over its base value. But then she fell on their side-by-side triple Lutzes, which received an arrow for slight under-rotation. Their first lift was Level 3, a disappointment because the Canadians are so good in this area. They also got Level 3 for their back outside death spiral with +0.90 GoE, but that level is considered very good for this very difficult element.

Later, at the halfway point, she singled and fell on the second jump, a toe loop, in their combination with a triple Salchow. Their other two lifts were the maximum Level 4. Their pair combination spin was Level 4, and they had good throws. Both throws were done together in the second half with the triple loop getting +0.70, and the throw triple Lutz +0.60. They finished on a high note with a Level 4 flying change foot combination spin which earned +0.43.

Duhamel said, “We were very proud of our Short Program yesterday. It was not only our season’s best, but it was our personal best for us. Today was not a satisfying program. I had not been missing the Lutz since we got here. But it just didn’t work out in the program. Now we need to get back home and work on our long program ready for Nationals.”

6.  Overall 189.11; 6.SP 68.77 (37.31+31.46); 5.FS 120.34 (57.90+62.44); Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch, Canada, They teamed up in the spring of 2009. They skated their short to Motley Crew –Mic Macs by Raphael Beau. He said, “It felt great out there. We were really comfortable. There are a couple of elements that were not 100% the quality that we can normally do them.” But all their overall GoEs were positives, and they lay only a tenth of a point behind Peng & Zhang going into the Free.

Their Free was set to a selection of music from the Fellini movies. They began with a Level 2 triple twist which earned them an extra +0.30. However, their second and third moves, which were solo jumps (triple toe loops and then what was classed as double instead of triple Salchows) got negatives.

Towers-Moore said, “The back half of the program was great. The beginning part we struggled with the triple toe triple toe ( for which they were given straight -2s) which is something unusual for us.” Moscovitch added, “We felt great all week, but within a matter of 30 seconds, we made a few mistakes. but we were able to pull it back together. It is just another step during the season. The Final last year was the turning point for our season. Being in the Grand Prix Final for a third time has, I think, sharpened our minds. We are ready for the next chunk of the season.” They earned one +3, which was for their throw triple loop for which the rest of the judging panel gave straight +2s.

They were fifth in the FS and, although they placed ahead of their teammates in this section, they were unable to advance out of sixth place.

No American pair qualified for the Senior Pairs Final. But this discipline did have a U.S. presence. Charlie Cyr, served as the Technical Controller who oversaw the Technical Specialist and his Assistant, and Gale Tanger was one of the nine judges.

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