Kavaguti and Smirnov take the lead in pairs

Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov perform to Also sprach Zarathustra in the Pairs Short Program.

Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov faced no serious challenge in capturing the leading position in the Pairs Short Program at the 2010 Cup of Russia.

The European Champions, who withdrew from Skate Canada earlier this year, were clearly a class of the field in Moscow. Despite a somewhat shaky landing on their opening triple toe loop and only level two for their death spiral, they are currently first with 61.91 points.

“It was our first competition after a long break,” said Smirnov.”Overall it was a respectable performance. We know where we did make mistakes, but overall it was good given the circumstances. We have lost almost four months of training (due to Kavaguti’s surgery and his own health issues), so it is really hard for us this season.
Basically, we had to start from the very beginning. I have to say that now I admire the teams who stop skating for a year or two and then manage to come back. Even after four months it felt as if we are just learning to skate together.”

The disruption was especially hard for Kavaguti. “It was the longest time off-ice in my entire life”, she said.

The students of Tamara Moskvina debuted a new short program to Richard Wagner’s Also sprach Zarathustra, which is quite a departure from their more familiar lyrical style. The powerful music works perfectly for the team, though, as it highlights the amplitude of their moves. However, with all key elements strategically placed on the strongest bits of the music, it demands a flawless execution from both skaters. This time around they have been able to produce just that.

“Usually the choice of music is a team decision in our camp,” said Smirnov. “However, in this particular case our coach insisted on it, so she had the final word and we are grateful to her. At first it was hard, it was a major change of style for us, but we trust her and we are grateful for having a chance to prove that her trust in us was not misplaced.”

In addition to fulfilling their own goals for the day, Kavaguti and Smirnov inadvertently helped their closest rivals to achieve their goal.

“As usual I was very nervous before the start of the competition,” said Narumi Takahashi at the press-conference, “but during the six-minute warm up I saw Yuko Kavaguti and she was so cool that it calmed me down. After the competition Yuko congratulated me and I was very happy.”

The young Japanese couple is currently second with 55.90 points for their Feeling Good routine, which was one of the highlights of the event. They did not make any visible mistakes, but the skaters, who also compete in Juniors, executed only a double twist and their side-by-side triple Salchows were marked as underrotated by the technical panel.

“It was a relatively good skate for us,” said Mervin Tran afterward. “Practices were hard for us in the past few weeks. It is already a very long season for us as we competed in Juniors first, so to go out and skate relatively clean was good. We were a little slow today, but we pushed through until the end and got all our levels.”

The team is now well poised to earn a Senior Grand Prix event silver medal and gain enough points to qualify for the Seniors Final (they have already secured a place in the Junior Grand Prix Final). The students of Richard Gauthier try to push the thought out of their minds, however.

“I realized it a couple of weeks ago and I started to think about it really hard, but the coach said not to think about it and not to get worked up,” said Tran. “So right now I am trying very hard not be worked up about it. We will take one step at time.”

Takahashi, on the other hand, doesn’t appear so concerned.

I love to skate, so if we qualify for both it is great for me, it only means that we will be able to skate more!” she told the press.

It is unclear if the couple will be allowed to participate in both events.

Sitting in third place following the short are Katarina Gerboldt and Alexander Enbert, also students of Tamara Moskvina. The team, who only started to train together a six months ago (previously Gerboldt has been a relatively successful single skater with the 2009 National Championships bronze medal and the 2009 European Championships sixth place finish on her resume), was the first to skate and did not quite expect to finish as high in the field with so many experienced couples. The team had already left the venue and the coach had to phone them to bring them back for the press conference.

The skaters landed side-by-side triple Salchows and a throw triple flip, but struggled with the triple twist.

“We are very surprised to be in third place, but we focused on our program and just wanted to show all the elements we’ve learned in the past few months. We wanted to have fun and to entertain the audience and we didn’t think too much about the placement,” said Gerboldt.

“I would like to thank the audience for their support,” added Enbert.”It was very easy to skate with such a great reception. It helped us a lot. It was fun for us to skate for them and our coach today.”

The Russians performed to a nostalgic waltz, which seem to suit both of them really well and while the partnerships is still obviously a new one, their enthusiasm and passion for their job were undeniable. They have now set their minds on achieving the same level of performance tomorrow.

“We have no plan B (of adding more difficult elements to secure a Grand Prix medal),” explained Enbert. “Everything we do on the ice is difficult for us right now. We have learned a lot in just half a year and we are eager to show it to everyone. Even before we have received this assignment our goal has been same: always to skate our best.”

When asked what prompted her to switch to Pairs, Gerboldt joked: “I guess like every other girl I always had that dream of a man carrying me in his arms.”

On a more serious note, she added that she has received an offer after last year’s National Championships. “I had a tryout with Sasha (Alexander) and loved it so much that I simply could not give it up.”

USA’s Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig (52.58) and Canadians Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers (51.67) also delivered strong and inspired performances, however, both teams made costly mistakes on their side-by-side jumps. Evora-Ladwig got their triple toe marked as underrotated by the technical panel while earlier first Lawrence and then Swiegers fell on the landing of the same jump, which incurred an extra 2.00 deduction.

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