A New Land
Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev. Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov. Belousova and Protopopov. Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul. Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier. Emilia Rotter and Laslo Szollas. Andree Joly-Brunet and Pierre Brunet. These are the pairs teams that have won four (or more) world championship titles. It’s an insanely lustrous group – only one team hasn’t won an Olympic Gold Medal (Rotter/Szollas, who won the world titles from 1932-35, before losing to Herber/Baier from Germany at the Olympic Games).
And now, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. They have matched Katarina Witt and Herber/Baier as the most successful German skaters (four world titles each, though other accomplishments means they’re third overall, imo). This is meaningful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it gives lie to the belief that a long career of sustained excellence is impossible under COP. It’s also a tribute to this team that they’ve been able to thrive, creating fascinating, ambitious programs under the rigidity that is COP. I have no idea how they’ll top Pina next year.
The Russian Pairs Reign, delayed?
Random Wiki fact. Ulanov broke up with Rodnina in order to skate with Smirnova (I think – one happened right after the other). They got married and had two kids. Their daughter, Irina Ulanova, was a pairs skater as well. Her partners included Alexander Smirnov and Maxim Trankov. Apropos of nothing.
The astonishing breadth of the Russian pairs team continues to astound. Even when my hopes are dashed by uninteresting choreography, part of me still roots for Volosozhar/Trankov. Even when it seems like they’ll be relegated, Kavaguti/Smirnov still deliver some fascinating programs. Bazarova/Larionov may be journeymen, but may all journeymen have her positions and his strength. Davankova/Deputat are new, but man what potential. And Stolbova/Klimov? Well, I started liking this team based on their 10/11 short program. I fell hard after this season’s two programs. If they had better line and posture, well, that would just be unfair to the rest of the teams.
My subtitle is a little bit of a misnomer, maybe. But I really believed that V/T would win worlds this year. Instead, they settled for silver after falling on a death spiral (what!), we had only one Russian team in the top five (no, seriously - WHAT) and V/T don’t seem to be progressing like I hoped they would. Misplaced expectations, perhaps, but it’s still frustrating that they’re not an all time list team.
North America.... a bit of a resurgence?
You know, the complaint is made every year – when are the Americans gonna get some pairs teams. Granted, the complaint is drowned out thanks to the overwhelming agony that are the American ladies, but still, it’s asked. But there’s actually quite a good crop of young American pairs that if the skate gods are kind (oh please, SGs, be kind) could do some marvelous things. Like what if Donlan gets her jumps? What if Yankowskas and Regan jell? Simpson and Blackmer actually did a Titanic program that didn’t make me want to go sink a ship (oh, the horror that movie wrought). What if Marley/Brubaker grow? What if Denney and Coughlin stop trying to sell a moment and merely sell the skating?
Canada’s not doing to shabbily either. An off season for Moore-Towers/Moscovitch sent them back to the drawing board (they’re planning on getting new positions for their lifts!!! Hallelujah!). Bobak/Beharry were a new team and did solidly this season – hopefully we’ll see some growth (she needs to look more engaged, stat!). Dube managed to defy expectations and went to Worlds with a new partner in Wolfe. And Duhamel/Radford had one of the skates of the season with their Canadian Nationals LP.
China... where do we go from here?
2012 will go down as the first year since 1998 that there were no Chinese teams on the pairs podium. A 14 year stretch. That’s remarkable. Except..... that 14 year stretch is composed of only three teams: Shen/Zhao, Pang/Tong, and Zhang/Zhang. One of those teams is retired. The other two plan on competing but have struggled with injuries/inconsistency/drive.
On the one hand, we have the team of Sui/Han, who’s high flying tricks and overall pizzazz have done a terrific job at masking their basic deficiencies. They’re the first Chinese team outside the big three to crack the top ten at senior worlds. How far can they go?
It’s unlikely we’ll see them in Sochi. They’re young enough that if they wanted to make a run for the 2018 Olympics, he could work towards citizenship. You’ve gotta wonder if the Japanese federation makes a push for them earlier. Lovely skaters, and Narumi of course is a delight (though I loved Mervin’s “fist pump” just as much as her legs-akimbo glee)