Savchenko and Szolkowy win second consecutive world title

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won their second consecutive title at the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships after placing first in both the Short and Long Program.

After a night of great skating in the pairs short program, the pairs freeskate was a huge let down of sorts, as there were only two performances that were worth phoning home about.

Perhaps it was because of the late hours that the competitors were forced to keep last night (the draw ended sometime after 11:30 PM PDT), or maybe it was because the pressure wore the skaters down as they attempted to qualify their nation for entries into the Olympic Games. Whatever the reason, the skating was just not as good as in the short program.

One of the highlights of the night was the commanding win by the reigning champions, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany who decimated the competition by outscoring the silver medalists by more than 16 points.

“It means a lot to us,” Szolkowy explained. “We knew it would be different when you have to defend a title. One year has passed, and all others have been working hard as well. We skated both programs really well. It was a good competition for us.”

Skating to a medley of music from Schindler’s List and Albinoni’s Adagio, the two-time champions performed the most technically demanding program of the evening. After opening with a triple toe loop-triple toe loop sequence, the team executed a gorgeous throw triple flip. Next, Savchenko and Szolkowy nailed another solo triple jump- a Salchow, which pretty much put the nail in the coffin of anybody else’s chance to challenge for the title.

Though the program was head and shoulders better than any other team’s efforts, it was not without error. In the middle of the circular step sequence, Szolkowy inexplicably tumbled to the ice, reducing the element to a level two with a negative GOE.

“It was one of those mistakes that you can laugh at,” said Szolkowy with a grin. “That just never happens. Not even in practice. I think that maybe my weight just got off center or something.”

The champions still crushed the competition with a freeskate total of 131.18 points and 203.48.

“We will go shopping,” Szolkowy said, now that the competition is over for them. “We will play the role of tourist. We will go to the beach, and just take in the flavor of being in Hollywood.”

Moving up from third place after the short program to place second by the narrowest of margins is the now three-time World silver medalist tandem of Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang.

“Since we have won the silver so many times, it means that there are still some things that we need to improve upon,” Hao Zhang said philosophically. “We will continue to work hard on all of those points. We are still happy that we won the silver medal, but we know that there is much to work on. It’s almost the Olympics, and we need to fix this!”

The Chinese team opened with a mistake in their routine to Hao Weiya’s Yangtze River Piano Concerto as Dan Zhang stepped out of the back half of their double Axel-triple toe loop combination. However, the Four Continents bronze medalists regrouped and seemed to build a quiet strength as the program wore on. However, a late program attempt at a triple Salchow proved to be too much for Dan Zhang, as she could only manage a double.

“Tonight was ok, but we are not satisfied,” Dan Zhang admitted. “There were details that we missed, and the solo jumps we didn’t do as well as we can.”

Zhang and Zhang earned 119.10 points for their freeskate, and scored a competition total of 186.52 points – a mere 0.13 points more than the Russian duo of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov.

Kavaguti and Smirnov, who stood in second after the short, gave a gutsy but flawed performance to Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci that will be remembered for a hard fall by Kavaguti on an attempt at the throw quadruple Salchow.

“Nothing is broken,” lamented the recently naturalized Russian Kavaguti. “So I am ok. I hit my cheek, so I think that tomorrow I will probably have a bruise.”

The European silver medalists also made a mistake on their opening move, a triple toe loop-double toe loop sequence, for which they earned -.80 GOE. However, their other throw and jump attempts were flawless, and their spins were scored quite well.

“I think overall it was an okay performance because we have improved since last year,” Smirnov said. “Unfortunately our free program was not perfect today, and maybe we are not strong enough yet because we are lacking experience. It is a shame about the quad throw because in all practices Yuko did it clean and on one foot and showed it to the judges. But we will get it next time.”

Kavaguti and Smirnov earned 117.45 points and a competition total of 186.39 points to earn their first spot on the podium as a team in their third appearance at this event.

China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong moved up to fourth place with a passionate performance to a medley of tango music.

“We have learned how to perform better by being part of the Champions on Ice Tour,” Pang said. “We have learned how to entertain the audience, and this is something that we work very hard on in our programs.”

The former World Champions struggled on their first two elements that killed any hope that they had to stand on the podium again this season. Pang and Tong opened with a planned double Axel-double Axel sequence that turned into a double-single sequence, and then received a downgrade on the next element – a triple toe loop.

“Maybe the jumps were not perfect tonight,” Tong admitted, “but the overall performance was good, so we are very happy.”

Pang and Tong scored 115.90 points in the freeskate and 181.08 points overall.

Finishing in fifth place overall was the Russian duo of Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, who skated an entertaining program to The Lady and the Hooligan. However, holding true to form, the duo could not pull together a solid technical performance in the freeskate as they finished in seventh place in this phase of the competition.

“Again, we could not skate our best in the freeskate,” said a disappointed Trankov. “I don’t know why this keeps happening. We train very well, and this never happens in practice. In competition, something always does not work, and I don’t understand. I was fine through the first half of the program, but then my legs started feeling shaky towards the end. I wish I knew why.”

Mukhortova and Trankov opened well with a nice triple twist lift and a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination, but later made mistakes on a planned triple Salchow attempt and on the throw triple Salchow. The European bronze medalists scored 111.01 points in the freeskate and 177.89 points overall.

The Ukrainian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov held their sixth place position after the short program, and like most of the other teams, struggled from the start of their program.

“The jumps were not so good today,” admitted Morozov, “but everything else was pretty good for us.”

After making a mistake by Morozov on their opening triple toe loop-triple toe loop sequence, Volosozhar could not complete their follow up triple Salchows, and stepped out of a double instead. The rest of their elements were clean and steady, though, and the crowd appreciated the performance aspect of their “Pearl Harbor” program.

Volosozhar and Morozov earned 111.51 points in the freeskate, good enough for fifth place, but their total of 175.61 was just short of allowing them to move up overall.

Finishing in a disappointing seventh place is last year’s bronze medalists Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison from Canada. This performance was marred by Dubé’s inability to convert their planned jumps into completed elements. Dubé stepped out of the first double Axel in a planned double-double sequence, and did not even attempt the second Axel, costing the team 3.8 points in base value. Later, Dubé put her hand down on a triple Salchow, giving up another point in the GOE mark.

“We both just weren’t very solid over our skates today,” Davison explained. “It can happen, but it was a combination of a whole bunch of things today. We felt really good on warm up, and even the start of the program was okay. From that point everything got a little bit rushed, I think.”

The Canadian champs equaled the gold medalists in terms of receiving level fours on their elements, earning six in total, but the errors on the jumps was just too much to overcome. Their total of 111.02 points in the freeskate was sixth best, but their competition total of 172.82 points kept them in seventh place overall.

Teammates Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin had a disastrous performance, making mistakes on all of their high value elements.

“This for us is about as bad as it gets,” Duhamel said disappointedly. “Everything just seemed to go wrong. We never skate like that.”

Buntin made mistakes on all three of the solo jumps, while Duhamel lost her axis in the air on both of the throw jumps, causing her to eke out the landings of what are usually reliable elements for the team. With a total of 104.13 points in the freeskate and 165.41 points overall, Duhamel and Buntin moved down two places from last year’s championships, and Canada will only be allowed to send two pairs teams to the Olympics next year in their home country.

Finishing in ninth place with an electrifying performance is the new team of Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett of the United States. The American silver medalists are becoming known as a technically consistent team, and tonight they hit every element from start to finish.

“The crowd was amazing,” Denney gushed. “They pushed us through every element in that program, and it was a great feeling to perform just like we do at home in practice every day.”

What holds Denney and Barrett back is their lack of polish, but it is something that they are planning to address in the off-season.

“We will finally have some time to work on our skating in the off-season,” Barrett commented. “We have a lot of work to do, and we are looking forward to making improvements in every area of our skating.”

The Americans received the biggest ovation of the evening, bringing the entire arena to their feet in appreciation of the duo’s performance. Denney and Barrett earned 104.10 points for their freeskate, and 156.84 points overall.

Canada’s Mylène Brodeur and John Mattatall finished in 10th place, while U.S. Champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker had a disappointing skate and finished in 11th overall.

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