Germans lead pairs after short program

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy perform to Send in the Clowns at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships.

The first day of the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships concluded with the Pairs Short Program. The event featured 20 teams from 15 countries, but only four teams have realistic chances of winning a medal.

The list of the contenders include the defending champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER), last year’s medalists Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (RUS) and Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov (RUS), and Ukraine’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov.

At the end of the day, three of them found themselves virtually tied for the top stop with only  0.58 points separating the first place from the third.

Savchenko and Szolkowy’s preparations for the championships were hampered by her illness, which was initially suspected to be mononucleosis, but fortunately turned out to be a severe case of flu. However, one would have never guessed that anything was amiss from the way they skated today.

Their routine to Send in the Clowns routine was simply exquisite, and despite the technical difficulty of the routine, the World Champions never fell out of character. It was their attention to choreographic details that truly set them apart from the rest of the field.

Their technical mark, however, was relatively low as they only received a level two for the death spiral, and their twist was only a level one. As a result,  with only 74.12  (40.92/33.20) points, the Germans barely edged their rivals for the lead.

“It was a very good performance today,” said Szolkowy afterwards. “We had fun and we were relaxed. It was important to show this. We didn’t make any big mistakes, but we got some low levels and we need to find out about that. We enjoyed skating and we hoped that the audience also enjoyed it. [Having such a small lead] will motive us tomorrow, and hopefully in the end, the difference will be more than 0.5 points.”

Compared to their Grand Prix performances, Savchenko (26) and Szolkowy (30) substantially toned down their whiteface make up.

“It was my decision,” said Savchenko. “We like to try new things and we wanted to test  if it would be better without the make-up, especially before the Olympic Games. We felt it was better now.”

Kavaguti (28) and Smirnov (25) were first to skate among the medal contenders, and their performance to The Swan set the bar high with a score of 73.92 (41.44/32.48) points. The students of Tamara Moskvina executed all required elements flawlessly except for a very minor stumble on the lift exit. The highlight of their performance was the side-by-side flying spins, which they performed in perfect unison.

The 2010 Russian National Champions also received the highest levels of difficulty for non-jumping elements: their step sequence was graded a level three and the rest of the elements were level four.

“We are very happy with our performance today,” said Kavaguti. “We wanted to get better and better with every competition, and so we did. After the Russian Nationals we had a short break over the new year (holidays), then we continued practice in order to perform our elements and cleaner.”

“It was our best short program of the season,” agreed Smirnov. “We thought that it was, Tamara Moskvina thought that it was, and it seems that the audience agreed as well. We felt fantastic support today. It is really easy to skate in these conditions. Maybe a bit tough mentally, but physically it was easy. For tomorrow we plan to skate well so as to please ourselves, the audience and our coach.”

The team was vague about attempting a throw quad Salchow in the free program. “Come to see us tomorrow and you will know,” joked Smirnov.

Mukhortova (24) and Trankov (26) seem to have recovered from less than perfect performances at their national championships, and were mesmerizing in their routine to Secret Garden’s Appasionata. All the elements were executed without a glitch, and blended into the overall flow of the program.

The Russian silver medalist earned the second highest marks for both technical and program components, and the highest “added value” due to the quality of execution. They are currently in a close third with 73.54 (41.02/32.52) points.

Both Russian teams significantly improved their previous personal bests.

“First of all, I would like to say “Happy Birthday” to Aliona [Savchenko],” said Trankov at the press conference. “Our performance was very good and we are happy to have skated like this. There was a lot of pressure and we were a little nervous as all the top teams before us had skated clean.”

However, Trankov was skeptical about their marks. “We got lower levels on the death spiral and the footwork, and we did the same elements in the Grand Prix and received higher levels. I don’t understand why we lost those levels.”

“We skated really well,” added Mukhortova. “It was our best short program of the season. All the emotions we show in our program are not studied or choreographed, they come from our hearts.”

A notch below the top three are the Ukrainians Tatiana Volosozhar (23) and Stanislav Morozov (30). They were also clean and their triple twist was as good as this element could get, however, the overall quality of their program to Dreams Illusion was not quite as strong as those of the leaders. Nevertheless, they earned a new personal best of 67.60 points.

“Maybe the support of the mother and aunt, who are present here has helped us,” said Volosozhar. “And also many of our fans support us watching on TV.”

“We were not affected by the scores of Kavaguti and Smirnov [who skated right before them],” said Morozov. “We are used to concentrating on ourselves, but we think that the judges were somehow  too careful (with the marks). We’ll see how it will be tomorrow.”

Russian bronze medalists  Vera Bazarova (16) and Yuri Larionov (23) placed fifth with 55.84 points. The team from Perm delivered their lyrical program called “Sadness” with their trademark neatness, and executed all the elements without major errors. However,  Bazarova had a tight landing on her toe loop and two-footed the throw landing.

“It was good, but we have done better this year,” note Bazarova. “It was surprisingly easy to skate, easier even than at Russian Nationals. We felt a lot of support from the crowd.”

“There was the third stage of the Russian Cup… we were flawless at that event in both programs,” agreed Larionov. “After the Russian Nationals, we worked on the technical aspects and the choreography of our programs at the training camp in Novogorsk, near Moscow. The president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation invited renown choreographer Ludmila Vlasova to help us, and we had a very productive collaboration.”

The team from Perm was forced to sit out for a year and a half after Larionov’s off-competition doping test turned out positive for a diuretic.

Italians Nicole Della Monica  and Yannick Kocon are currently sixth. Originally, the team was supposed to have a ‘skate off’ with their teammates Marika Zanforlin and Federico Degli Esposti for the spot on the Olympic team, however, the latter withdrew due to  illness.

The lack of pressure, however, did not help them to skate clean. The Italian Champions opened their performance with a fall on the side-by-side triple Salchows, and the quality of their other elements were not as strong as the other top contenders. Nevertheless, the higher levels of difficulty allowed them to make up most of the difference, and with 52.64 points, they edged out France’s  Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur of France (52.04) for the sixth place.

“It was just a stupid mistake,” said Della Monica of the fall. “I don’t know why it happened.”

Rounding out the top ten are France’s Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia (51.24), Germany’s Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende (50.66), and Poland’s  Joanna Sulej and Mateusz Chruscinski (48.38).

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