With the departure of Olympic champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and world bronze medalists Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman of the USA, the pairs competition at the 2003 World Figure Skating Championships in Washington, DC was touted as a battle between the top three Russian and Chinese teams. The Russians took two out of three medals at the European Championships while the Chinese swept the Four Continents Championships. The only real spoiler in the group was France’s Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis, who took the silver medal at Europeans. Although the U.S. fielded three teams, none was a serious contender for a medal.
The short program opened with many of the teams performing clean programs. Russia’s Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, skating to “Morning” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” won the short in what Marinin called “the best performance of our short program all season.” They were followed by China’s Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, the reigning world champions, who skated to “Beethoven’s Last Night.” Shen injured both her knee and her ankle on her landing leg early in the competition when she fell badly on a throw quad salchow in practice, but it was Zhao who made the only error in their program, falling out of a side-by-side spin. “Because of her injury, I paid attention only to the jumps so after we completed all the jumps I was too relaxed,” Zhao stated.
Russia’s 2000 world champions, Marina Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, finished third. Skating to “Blues Under the Rain,” they were the only one of the top couples to use a throw triple salchow instead of the throw triple loop. Russia’s Julia Obertas and Alexei Sokolov, making their first trip to Worlds, finished fourth with a clean program to “Summer of 42” while Poland’s Dorota Zagorska and Mariusz Siudek were fifth, using “Lord of the Rings“. Abitbol and Bernadis made multiple errors, falling to ninth after the short and out of contention.
The main question before the free skate was whether Shen and Zhao would be able to compete. “We thought about withdrawing,” Zhao stated, “but then we did OK in the short program. We were unsure about the free program because four and a half minutes is very long.” Not only did they skate, they took home their second world title in a row. Skating to Puccini’s “Turandot,” the Chinese completed one of their finest programs ever, thrilling the crowd with a throw triple salchow and throw triple loop, double Axels out of spread eagles, a double Axel-triple toe loop sequence and their signature high triple twist. The crowd response was deafening by the time the Chinese were halfway through the program and they received a prolonged standing ovation by the end. Zhao later thanked the audience for their support, stating that it uplifted them in the last half of the program.
Totmianina and Marinin also skated well, but seemed to lack the desire that the Chinese showed. Using “Cotton Club,” the Russians completed a throw triple salchow and triple loop as well as side-by-side triple salchows, but Marinin could only manage a single toe loop instead of a double in their side-by-side triple toe/double toe combination. But they seemed to be skating cautiously to avoid any mistakes rather than going aggressively for the gold and they finished with the silver. “We were lacking confidence a bit,” Marinin noted, “but the Chinese were better today.”
Petrova and Tikhonov held on for the bronze, their first medal at Worlds since their win in 2000, but Tikhonov admitted,” We made a few mistakes.” That included his doubling the triple toe loop in their side-by-side double Axel-triple toe loop sequence, while she under rotated her triple toe and put her hand down on the throw triple loop in their “Chess” program. Obertas and Sokolov made several mistakes in their “Pearl Harbor” program to drop to eighth, while China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong recovered from a sub-par short to jump from eighth to fourth with an excellent program to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto Number 2. The North American teams also skated well with Canada’s Annabelle Langlois and Patrice Archetto moving from sixth to fifth and Jacinthe Lariviere and Lenny Faustino moving from 15th to 11th. The three U.S. teams also skated well, especially Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, who skated one of their best long programs to move from 13th to ninth. Rena Inoue and John Baldwin finished tenth while Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash were 16th.