Golden Skate

Savchenko and Szolkowy capture fourth World title

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany perform to music from the "Pina" soundtrack at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships.

In what was a spectacular showdown of the Pairs Long program at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won their fourth title by a margin of 0.11 points, while Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took the silver.

This was a negligible difference considering that the scores for both teams were above 201 points. The bronze went to young the Japanese team of Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran.

When Savchenko and Szolkowy secured a 8.15-point lead ahead of their most challenging opponents, Volosozhar and Trankov, the students of Ingo Steuer could have hardly imagined that they would need every hundredth of a point of this advantage in order to defend their World title.

Perplexed silence enveloped the venue when the German’s score for the free skating came up: 132.86. They knew that Savchenko and Szolkowy carried an eight-point advantage over Volosozhar and Trankov after the short program, and they had heard the score the Russians had posted earlier: 140.90.

For a few seconds it was unclear who would be declared the Champions as spectators, journalists, and the skaters themselves, were trying to do quick math in their heads. When the final sum flashed up on the screen, Savchenko stared at it in complete disbelief, shook her head and then, out of blue, pretended to shoot someone out of an imaginary gun.

“It was for Robin,” joked Savchenko at the press conference, “because he forgot that spin.”

‘That spin’ was a pair combination spin for which they only received level one, giving away at least 1.5 points in base value. Another mistake, also by Robin, was singling a planned double Axel. Szolkowy took a criticism well in stride.

“Everything was going well until I singled the Axel,” he said. “Then my power was gone. I don’t really know why, but I forgot the spin, starting it on the wrong foot. It has never happened to me before, but we just tried to make the best out of it.”

“I am happy that this mistake did not put us into second place,” he added. “I would like to congratulate Tatiana and Maxim, who had a really great skate tonight, and the bronze medalists Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran. As for our performances here … it was enough.”

Other than a couple of technical glitches, their routine to the Pina soundtrack was superb. The skaters, their coach, and choreographer Ingo Steuer obviously put a lot of thought into this program, and managed to incorporate some trademark moves into it. The judges, however, preferred a more straightforward and powerful approach by the Russian team, giving them a slight advantage on the program components score in addition to the large one they earned on the technical score.

“Our preparation this season was not the best, of course,” admitted Szolkowy. “Plus, we were obviously a little nervous to skate tonight having already won three Worlds. Now we can be proud of having won our fourth title and look into the future.”

Only a handful of teams in history have won the World Championships four times. In the post World War II period, there were only four: Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul from Canada and three great Soviet teams: Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov, and Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. The only team to do even better was Rodnina with her second partner, Alexander Zaitsev, with whom she won the title six times.

Volosozhar and Trankov, who skated in a penultimate group, had nothing to lose and everything to gain today. The students of Nina Mozer held nothing back and were so carried away by their performance that they almost missed the final lift. This kind of abandon went well with the theme of their routine set to the soundtrack of Black Swan, and made their trademark amplitude and power even more impressive than usual.

If the Germans’ performance was a work of art to be admired from afar, the Russians pulled the audience in and carried it all the way through their electrifying routine. Despite winning the long program, however, they had to settle for silver by a margin even closer than already improbable 0.16 points which separated the top two teams at the Grand Prix Final in December.

However, the team had problems recalling their choreography.

“We were very nervous,” explained Trankov. “Today we had a very good practice and the six minutes of warm-up went well, but it was the most nervous competition for us so far. In the beginning of the program, I took Tatiana’s hand differently, not like always. I forgot how I needed to do that and nearly panicked, but it was good in the end. After the last throw, I was very excited and then nearly lost my lift, but I saved it and am proud of that. I think we skated well today and we fought and we can say that Russians never give up.”

The 2012 European Champions believe that a day off between the short and the long programs was very beneficial for them.

“It was good to have the one-day break in between,” said Trankov. “We were very nervous and in a bad mood, but today we tried to be Volosozhar and Trankov and not the couple that skated the short program.”

For Volosozhar, having her family with her helped her to settle her nerves after a disappointing outcome of the first phase of the event.

“My mother and sister are here in Nice, so I walked with them and tried to find motivation for the free skating,” she said.

Trankov wanted to thank the fans for support.

“We had many messages from people from all over the world who believed in us, told us that they knew that we could skate a great program,” he said. “That pushed us. We are always supporting each other. We talked, we walked, and we knew we could skate well.”

The wait for the results were nerve-wrecking, however.

“I knew our score and the personal and season’s bests of the other teams,” said Trankov. “I realized that we still had a chance to medal, but I did not watch Aliona and Robin. I was in the dressing room.”

“I asked our coach ‘how did they do’ and she told me that they made a couple of small mistakes,” added Volosozhar. “I was certain that there was no way we could win, but then I saw how close we came to winning… However, we must be strong in both programs in order to win. It’s our own fault.”

“In a couple of years, people will forget about margins of victory,” said Trankov. “What they will remember is that Savchenko and Szolkowy won. They are the great skaters, always on top, so we will just try to fight. Of course we would be very happy if we could win one day and we will do everything for this, and we will see.”

The biggest surprise of the competition, however, came at the very end of the event when Takahashi and Tran won a bronze medal—a first ever in pair skating for Japan. The young team was even more excited about their success than the champions, but the quality of their routine was definitely comparable to that of the top two teams.

Takahashi and Tran even did better in some aspects, like getting level three for the triple twist, whereas the Russians only earned level two and the Germans received level one. Unfortunately, they were unable to skate clean: Tran stumbled out of an underrotated triple Salchow landing and Takahashi stepped out of a throw triple Salchow. The students of Richard Gauthier earned 124.32 points for their free skate and 189.69 points overall—both new personal best records.

“It is something,” said Tran. “We are very happy. We did not quite expected that exactly. I thought we might be able to finish fifth, but we finished even higher. We did two good performance, so, well, here we are! It is a dream come true.”

“It is the the best competition ever for us,” added Takahashi. “Like Mervin said, we did two good performances. It will be a great skating memory for my skating life.”

“It is very special to become the first Japanese skaters to win a medal in pair skating,” she continued. “I hope that someone in Japan will see us and will start to skate pairs. Hopefully we will become a strong pair skating country in the future.”

“I am very proud to represent Japan,” added Tran. “They supported us right from the beginning, even then things were not very smooth. I am very proud to win this medal.”

The team admitted being nervous, but said that they helped each other to focus.

“I was very nervous as usual,” admitted Takahashi, “but nervous is normal for me. I felt no pressure, though. I had already won a small medal, so I was satisfied. Mervin told me that we were not defending that third spot, that we have already accomplished a lot, so we have to attack. I felt so honored to skate last in this big competition.”

“We relaxed a bit as we knew we had nothing to loose,” added her partner.

Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov finished fourth in free skating to pull up to seventh place overall (182.42). For the first three minutes of the program, the students of Tamara Moskvina were delivering what looked like a World Championship medal-worthy performance, but then Kavaguti stepped out of the landing of her second double Axel in sequence. As a result, the team had to abort the lift immediately afterwards.

“We just didn’t have the right timing in this lift,” explained Smirnov. “Plus the mistake in our short program put pressure on me, but I am glad. We skated well and did a nice program. After the short, we couldn’t fight for medals anymore, but we could still fight to please ourselves and the audience. I think we pleased ourselves for 80 percent, and I hope that the audience got 100 percent.”

“Yesterday’s result was different for us as we were put to a very low placement,” added Kavaguti. “So, I thought we don’t have anything to lose for this competition. I skated this free program as an exhibition. I tried to go out with a refreshed mind, but I didn’t succeed very well. Maybe that is why I made several mistakes. One good thing was that we landed the second triple throw, which we have been struggling with since the Vancouver Olympics.”

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford finished fifth in the long program and overall (185.41). Their ambitious performance featured an attempt on a side-by-side triple flip combination, as well as solid side by side triple Salchows. They earned the third highest technical score of the night, but are not yet up to the level of the higher-ranked teams in terms of program component scores. Given the progress they have achieved in this department since last year, it won’t be long before they will become medal contenders.

“These are the strongest programs we have ever skated internationally,” said Duhamel. “We are very proud of our performance—both today and in the short program.”

Two-time World Champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong from China finished sixth in the the free skating and slipped to fourth place overall (186.05) with an error-ridden performance. Tong fell on a triple toe loop, and the team botched a sequence of two double Axel. They later had problems with catch on a triple twist and a step out on a throw triple loop.

“I was crooked in the air on my triple toe loop and that’s why I fell,” explained Tong. “We haven’t competed internationally for a year (since 2011 Worlds). I regret that this was probably our worst-ever competition, and I think we weren’t really prepared for how to recover from mistakes in the program.”

The 2012 Russian Champions, Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, slipped to sixth place overall with a flawed performance of their touching Dr. Zhivago routine. Unexpectedly, this time it was Larionov, rather than Bazarova, who missed the jumping passes. The Russians scored 183.68 points.

“We will work,” stated Larionov. “Honestly we have nothing to say right now.”

U.S. Champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin pulled ahead of the 2012 Four Continents Champions Wenjing Sun and Cong Han from China as the Chinese’s technical ambitions got the better of them. Both their record-breaking quad throw and quad twist were flawed and the team was unable to execute a lift at the end of the program. In contrast, the Americans’ only mistake was to single the first double Axel in sequence.

“This is by far, the best field we’ve ever been in and we answered the bell,” said Coughlin. “That program felt easy. Our training at home was awesome – what a great first Worlds, I’m so excited. You only get one first Worlds and this one is good to build on, to recharge the battery for new choreography and bigger tricks for next season.”

“I always have a good time whenever I perform in front of a huge crowd,” added Denney. “I made one mistake (singling a double Axel), but I always learn from each competition and I’m looking forward to the future.”

“We tried to do our best today,” said Han. “Unfortunately we failed one of our lifts, but being here in our first World Championships was amazing. It is a wonderful experience.”

USA’s Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker rounded up the top ten.