Savchenko and Szolkowy take Pairs Short at NHK Trophy

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy

Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy perform to music from the "Angels and Demons" soundtrack.

Three-time World Champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy grabbed the Pairs Short Program in spite of a fall on the throw triple Axel at NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, on Friday. Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan trail the Germans by less than two points to finish second, while Italy’s Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek are sitting in third.

Overall, there were many errors in the Pairs figure skating short program, and a lot can still happen in the free skating as less than four points separate the couples ranked first to fourth.

Savchenko fell hard again on the throw triple Axel, but the fall looked at least less painful than at Skate America. Though the team recovered to nail the triple twist, Szolkowy then doubled the side by side triple toe, and the pair combination spin was only a level one. The footwork and the lift garnered a level four. The program to the Angels and Demons soundtrack is powerful and seemed less affected by the fall than three weeks ago. The four-time European Champions scored 59.23 points.

“As everybody could see, our short program was not the way we planned to skate,” said Szolkowy. “We take it step by step. Maybe next time. Of course we were working on the throw and it was getting better and better, therefore we decided to try it again. I think it was a better try than at Skate America, but the performance overall was quite the same. This is only like 50 percent of how we skate in practice.”

Later he explained that he felt affected by jet lag. Savchenko was mad at herself for opening the throw Axel too early and falling. She only smiled once briefly during the press conference when someone asked her if she is hurting from the fall. “The fall was not too good for her body, and we’ll see tomorrow,” Szolkowy answered for her. “So far it’s okay.”

Takahashi and Tran opened their elegant routine to Imagine by John Lennon with a triple toe, but she missed it. However, the Japanese-Canadian duo rallied back to produce a triple twist, throw triple Salchow, and four level-four elements. The reigning World Junior bronze medalists earned 57.89 points.

“We made a mistake soon after starting, however, we didn’t give up and kept focusing on each of the elements very carefully,” Takahashi noted. “I think that kind of care and attention showed in the result of the short program today.”

Berton and Hotarek actually were the most solid team today and their performance to Harlem Nocturne was the cleanest. The Italians landed the triple toeloop, a throw triple loop, and the triple twist – a new element for them. They got a level four for the death spiral and the footwork to pick up 56.23 points.

“We are surprised being here with the others,” Hotarek said. “We just try to do our best, skate, having fun and skate for the public here in Japan. We are happy to be here and we’ll step it up and try to skate even better tomorrow.”

“Every time at the beginning of the season, we set goals for ourselves but then we don’t think of them too much,” he added. “We just try to skate with a clean mind and tomorrow we want to do the same.”

USA’s Caydee Denney and John Coughlin finished fourth at 55.48 points as she doubled the toeloop, but the triple twist was big and she pulled off the throw triple flip.

Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov had a rough skate. She underrotated the triple toeloop and fell, and also stepped out of the throw triple loop. Apparently Kavaguti has trouble with her shoulder again. The 2010 European Champions are ranked fifth with 55.02 points.

Teammates Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze struggled with their final lift and ended late, plus she underrotated the triple toe. The 2009 World Junior Champions came sixth (53.12 points).

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