Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China were the winners in the Pairs discipline, while teammates Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang settled from bronze. Germany’s Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy took the silver.
Shen and Zhao, who skated last, displayed total mastery in their routine to Romanza by Salvadore Bacarisse, executing solid side-by-side triple toeloops, followed by an excellent throw triple toeloop, a good level three spiral sequence, and a good level four backward-outside death spiral. Though their side-by-side flying came spin was only graded a level two, the reigning Olympic bronze medalists also produced a good triple twist and an excellent level four lift, earning 68.66 points for a first place finish.
“This was a good performance, and we’re happy with it,” said Zhao. “The only problem was that the bus ride from the hotel took so long (one hour and 20 minutes due to traffic jams).”
Skating to Spanish Caravan and Hello I Love You by The Doors, teammates Zhang and Zhang opened their powerful routine with an excellent lateral triple twist, followed by a very solid throw triple loop, side-by-side triple Salchows, and a very good level four lift. However, Hao lost his center during a backward-outside death spiral and had to change his pivot position. Though Hao was also a bit shaky during the first position of the spiral sequence, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists produced a level three side-by-side and combination pair spin and were awarded a score of 64.18 points for a second place finish behind their teammates.
“Our spiral was messy today,” admitted Hao. “It was still a better performance than at the NHK Trophy in Japan, where I fell [on the triple Salchow]. The mistake here was smaller.”
USA’s Rena Inoue and John Baldwin delivered a decent routine to Steve Fisk’s Soul of Spain, which featured good side-by-side double Axels and a good level three spiral sequence, but Inoue fell on a throw triple Axel. The two-time and reigning US Champions also produced a double twist, a difficult lift, a backward-outside death spiral, and a pair combination spin (all graded at level four) to place third with 59.18 points.
“It was one of these fluke things,” said Baldwin, regarding the fall. “It was a great Axel, but it just flipped. This is our fourth Grand Prix this year. I think it makes us perform stronger. I know the throw triple Axel hasn’t been that consistent, but it is a throw triple Axel. We’ve done it several times in competition.”
Savchenko and Szolkowy executed a very high throw triple flip, but then Savchenko doubled her jump and stepped out of the landing on the side-by-side triple toeloops. The 2005 Grand Prix Final bronze medalists also had problems on the triple twist, but recovered to produce a difficult lift, two good spins, and a very good level three spiral sequence, earning 58.82 points for a fourth place finish in their routine to music from the soundtrack Once Upon a Time.
Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov of Russia experienced problems from the start of their Sarabande routine beginning with a rough catch on the triple twist which was graded a level one. Tikhonov then doubled his jump on the side-by-side triple toeloops. Despite delivering a very good throw triple loop, the two-time and current World bronze medalists lost unison during the side-by-side flying camel combination spin and had problems in the entry of their pair spin (also given a level one). The 2005 Grand Prix silver medalists finished in fifth place with 56.52 points.
Canada’s Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin appeared to struggle through most of their routine. Their side-by-side triple toeloops were sub-par and Buntin stumbled during the side-by-side flying camel spins. The team also had problems on the pair combination spin and Marcoux later fell on a throw triple loop. The three-time and reigning Canadian Champions were sixth overall after the short with 52.98 points.
Overnight leaders Shen and Zhao delivered a masterful performance to Meditation which featured a side-by-side triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, good side-by-side double Axels, an excellent triple twist, a very good level three straight line footwork sequence and side-by-side flying camel combination spins, an excellent throw triple loop and throw triple Salchow, and three difficult lifts. The veteran team also produced a good forward-outside death spiral, a very good spiral sequence, and a very good pair combination spin, all of which were level four, for a first place finish in the long (134.53 points). With a total score of 203.19 points, the team won their fifth Grand Prix Final gold.
“We are so happy,” said Zhao with a smile. “Tonight we showed our best and we finally cracked the 200 points [total score – this season]. It is exciting to have won the final in Russia, and the audience welcomed us very warmly.” “When we saw the score, over 200 points, it was just great,” added Shen.
Skating to music from The Mission soundtrack for their complex routine, Savchenko and Szolkowy opened with a high throw triple flip, followed by a very good triple toeloop-triple toeloop sequence, a triple twist, two level four lifts, a good level four spiral sequence, and a throw triple Salchow. Although Savchenko singled and two-footed the landing of her jump on the side-by-side double Axels, the 2006 European silver medalists recovered to produce two level four spins as well as a level three straight line footwork sequence, lift, and back-outside death spiral. The German National Champions earned 121.85 points for a second place finish in the long, and with a total score of 180.67 points, moved up from fourth to second place overall to win the silver.
“We just had to go out and fight,” said Savchenko. “It was hard, emotionally it was hard, but we wanted to show our best.” Savchenko took a hard fall in practice on Monday, crashing into the boards. “I couldn’t stand or walk after the Short Program. The Russian doctor gave me an injection and a massage.” She added: “I just had to skate today. I was focused on that.” “This was our best free program of the season so far,” added Szolkowy. “The goal was to skate clean finally and we came close to it.”
Marcoux and Buntin delivered a clean skate in their routine to L’Amour which featured a very good side-by-side triple toeloop-double toeloop sequence and throw triple loop. The 26-year-olds also produced three level four lifts, a throw triple Salchow, side-by-side double Axels, and a good level four spiral sequence to earn 112.85 points for a third place finish in the long. With a total score of 165.83 points, the team rose from sixth to fifth place overall.
Zhang and Zhang experienced problems in their powerful routine when Dan fell on the side-by-side triple toeloops and then slipped in the entry to their death spiral which didn’t take off. The team also lost unison during the side-by-side flying camel spins which were rather far apart, but otherwise produced an excellent throw triple Salchow, a very good throw triple loop, and three difficult lifts. They placed fourth with 111.75 points and subsequently slipped from second to third place overall with a total of 175.93 points.
“This performance was not up to our standard,” said Hao Zhang. “We had problems with some elements and Dan Zhang is feeling ill.” He went on to say that Dan was taken to the hospital. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She hasn’t been feeling well in practice and she felt weak in competition.”
Inoue and Baldwin placed fifth in the long (107.65 points) and fourth overall (166.83 points). Baldwin doubled his jump on the side-by-side triple toeloops and didn’t get his partner off the ice on a throw triple loop. Inoue stepped out of the landing on a throw triple Axel and their opening double twist was low.
Petrova and Tikhonov received two deductions when Tikhonov doubled his jump on the side-by-side triple toeloops and then turned out the landing on his first jump during the side-by-side double Axel sequence. Petrova later fell after landing a triple Salchow, but the mistake interfered with the next lift which didn’t take off. She fell again after a straight line footwork sequence and the team didn’t get credit for the final pair spin. They placed sixth in the long (98.07 points) and overall (154.59 points).