Golden Skate

Savchenko and Szolkowy win World title

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy became the first German pair team to win a World title since 1997.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy from Germany, who stood in second after the short program, won their first World title in the dramatic Pair Skating final. Skating after their main rivals, Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China, the Germans opened with a huge through triple flip, followed by a triple toeloop-triple toeloop sequence in which Szolkowy stepped out of the second jump. The team performed a strong level 2 triple twist, but both skaters made mistakes on their side-by-side triple Salchows: Szolkowy fell and Savchenko lost her balance and put both hands on the ice.

Nonetheless, their excellent non-jumping elements (all level 4 except for a level 3 step sequence) and intricate choreography allowed them to make up the ground they lost in the short program and win the event with an impressive five-point margin. The two-time and current European champions scored 130.86 (68.77/63.09) points for their Cirque du Soleil routine, and rose to first overall with a total score of 202.86 points.

The title meant a great deal for the team, their hometown, country, and Germany’s figure skating as a whole. Their coach, Ingo Steuer, along with his former partner Mandy Woetzel, were the last Germans to win a World title in 1997.

When asked about what went through their heads then they made a mistake on triple Salchow, Szolkowy was quite frank: “Yeah, Salchow… I was some 30% surprised that I fell on it, it felt so good in the air. At the first two-three seconds after the mistake, I thought ‘Shit, here goes our chance’, but then I recalled the things we worked on in practices, that you could always catch up after small mistakes… well, it was pretty major one, but still…”

His partner agreed. “Anyway, we had to go on till the end. I knew it wasn’t over. I was determined to fight till the very end.”

When asked about her move from Ukraine to Germany, Savchenko replied: “It was my dream to come to Germany, and it is always great when your dreams come true. Today was just perfect. I’m sure lots of Ukrainians still root for me. I received a lot of message and phone calls, but unfortunately I had no time to reply to them so far.”

Canadians Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison won their first World medal with after a mesmerizing performance to an instrumental version of Blower’s Daughter. Though the team only did a double twist as opposed to a triple, their solid side-by-side jumps (double Axel-double Axel sequence and triple Salchows) and good throws, combined with strong lifts and excellent side-by-side spins, resulted in the second highest technical score of the night.

The only flaw in the 2008 Canadian silver medalist’s routine was a touchdown with hand by Dubé on a throw triple Lutz in the second half of the program. They improved their personal best score for the free program by almost nine points, placing second with 124.12 (66.92/57.20) points, and finishing third overall with 192.78 points to win the bronze.

“We knew we could do it (win a medal),” said Davison, “but actually… All I can say is ‘wow’.”

“The practice in the morning went well,” added Dube. “We were relaxed and focused. I think we knew then that it could be good.”

During the press conference Davison explained that they planned to add a triple twist to their repertoire next season. “We will certainly work on it. I think we are ready to add another rotation. Jess is one of fastest rotators around, so just adding a rotation is not a problem. But we want to make sure we have a proper technique on the element. Not just the rotations, but good levels and good GOE: good catch, split, steps coming into it… we want a level 3 triple twist. Another goal for next season is adding another side-by-side triple.”

Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China held onto second place overall (197.82points), winning their second World Championships silver medal despite finishing third in the long with 123.4 (64.15/59.31) points. The team ran into problems right at the beginning when Dan singled a planned double Axel in side-by-side double Axel – triple toeloop combination. She later she put hand down on the landing of a throw triple salchow.

While the 2008 Four Continents silver medalists earned respectable levels on their non-jumping elements, they were not good enough to make up for the mistakes on the jumps, and their technical score was only the third highest of the night. However, the command of all their moves, developed over years of competing on the highest level, allowed them to gain the second best presentation score.

“We made mistakes on two of our jumps,” noted Dan. “We really regret that we were not able to skate our best tonight. My partner is with the doctor now.”

Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, who were third coming into long program, narrowly missed the podium as they are scored 191.33 (119.91 (61.40/58.51) points for their long program to Love Story. It was however, a personal best for them.

The 2008 Russian champions opened with a slightly flawed attempt on a throw quad Salchow, but then Smirnov stepped out of his opening jump on a planned triple toeloop-triple toeloop sequence. Last year, the incorrect execution of this move them cost them a lot as they dropped from fourth to 10th place in the standings, but the rules were modified this year allowing athletes a better benefit of the doubt.

Still, the students of Tamara Moskvina appeared unprepared for problems as Kawaguchi hesitantly tackled a double toeloop at the end of the sequence, while always looking over her shoulder on her partner. Later in the program, Smirnov turned out of his double Axel landing. The 2008 European bronze medalists were otherwise clean and they gained a level 4 on most of their non-jumping elements except for a level 1 step sequence and level 3 death spiral, but the lack of a combination jump hurt their technical score.

“We just missed the podium narrowly,” noted Smirnov. “We did the quad throw. Overall we skated quite well. We learned a lot of lessons here: to be in the top three after the short program, to skate in the last warm-up, to skater after new World champions, and to have the whole day to spend before the competition. These are all lessons for us and we need to learn them.”

Qing Pang and Jian Tong from China remained in the fifth place overall (186.78 points) after placing fifth in the long with 118.91 (58.79/60.12) points. Pang underrotated her jump in the side-by-side triple toeloops, and then popped her first jump and underrotated the second in a planned double Axel-double Axel sequence. The 2007 World silver medalists performed their trademark lateral triple twist and huge triple throws, which were moved into the second half of the program to maximize the points, but without any clean side-by-side jumps, they were unable to move forward.

“It wasn’t very good,” Pang admitted afterwards. “Two of the jumps were downgraded. It is very hard to get into the top three today. We did our best during the competition.”

“The technical pane didn’t give credit to our triple jumps,” added Tong. “We did make triple jumps. They (tech panel) thought they were not good enough and only gave us points for two doubles. We did two jumps with high degrees of difficulty, but the points we got were for the lowest levels. In addition, we lost some more points. We will probably have some conversation with the judges afterwards and practice more when we get home to solve this problem. These two jumps made a difference of 10 points together. Anyway, we did as well as we could tonight.”

Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin of Canada moved up to sixth place overall (169.61 points) after placing sixth in the long with a new personal best of 109.60 (58.86/50.74) points. Skating to Tosca, they opened their performance with a strong side-by-side triple toe-double toe combination and triple Salchows. Their only mistake was a step out of a throw triple Lutz, but overall, they lived up to the powerful music of Puccini’s music.

“I’m speechless,” said Duhamel afterwards. “That’s more than I expected coming here, so it’s a bonus.”

“We are such a new team,” added Buntin. “I had a major injury over the past few months, and these past months have really been the most difficult time of both of our lives. So to come out here tonight…we are just so proud of what we did. I have surgery next week, but as soon as we come back from that, we will take a big step on just becoming a team over spring and summer and really showing what we can do next year.”

Teammates Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, who stood in ninth after the short program, nailed their opening throw triple Salchow, but then Langlois doubled her opening jump on the side-by-side triple toeloop-double toeloops, and didn’t complete the second jump. She later overrotated a triple twist in which Hay failed to catch her as she slipped through his arms.

The newly-crowned Canadian champions otherwise performed perform solid and difficult lifts and gained high levels for other non-jumping elements. Their lyrical program to music from the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack and left a strong overall impression, and they earned a new personal best of 105.24 (57.46/47.78) points. They rose to eighth overall with a total score of 164.67 points.

“It wasn’t the best,” admitted Langlois, “but it was pretty good. One mistake in the beginning, but then we recovered and I think we improved a lot of the presentation so that was important to us.”

Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia, who were sixth coming into the long program, finished ninth in the free program and dropped to seventh place overall (166.64 points) after a heart-breaking performance.

Both skaters made mistakes on the opening side-by-side jumps, which isn’t that uncommon, but immediately afterward they were unable to execute a twist lift, which clearly showed that something was quite wrong. The 2008 Russian silver medalists seemed on their way to recover as they landed both throws, but then Trankov interrupted the performance and skated to the referee while massaging his right arm – his face twisted in pain.

“Maxim told me already before the program that his arm was hurting a lot and he warned me that he might have to stop during the performance,” said Mukhortova. “So it didn’t come unexpected for me. After the pair spin, he told me that he had to stop.”

After team doctor cut Trankov’s costume cuff to improve blood circulation, they picked up their program from the point of interruption and skated well enough, executing two overhead lifts, but they lost too many points on the first minute of the program and only scored 102.55 (50.99/51.56) points.

“Two months ago during Europeans he had an inflammation of the lymph system in his right arm,” explained coach Oleg Vasiliev. “We have solved this program after Europeans, but today the condition started to worsen. He just did not know how to skate with that.”

Vasiliev went on to say that the doctor wasn’t able to do much other than cut open the costume to allow for better circulation in his hand. “When the blood circulation resumed, he continued to skate it to finish the program. It really was the same problem just that at Europeans it happened after his program and not in the middle of it.”

Ukrainians Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov slipped from eighth to ninth overall (159.95 points) after placing 10th in the long (100.42 points). Morozov stepped out his jump on the side-by-side triple Salchows, while Volosozhar fell on a throw triple Salchow.

USA’s Rena Inoue and John Baldwin finished eighth in the long (103.37 points) and 10th overall (157.20 points). Inoue put her hand down on a throw triple loop and fell later on a throw triple Axel. The team also received a deduction for a time violation.

The event continues with the Original Dance and the Ladies Long Program.

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