This was the night in pairs skating that is known as a ‘coming out’ party for Russians Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov. Skating to music by Pink Floyd, the European silver medalists performed with the charisma and technical prowess reminiscent of many Russian champions who have come before them. Opening with a powerful, yet somehow delicate split triple twist, Mukhortova and Trankov captivated the audience from the first note of their music.
“We are Russian, so we have skating in our blood,” said an obviously happy Trankov. “We have a great coach (Oleg Vasiliev) who is an Olympic Champion, and he has many secrets on how to train to win.”
The Russian silver medalists executed the only clean program of the night, making each required element just a little more exciting than the previous. After landing a dramatic set of triple toe loops, Mukhortova and Trankov effortlessly completed a throw triple loop with speed and flow, both in and out of the element.
“We just do our work,” Trankov said matter-of-factly. “When you do your work, everything just comes together.”
The crème de la crème of the program was the innovative pair combination spin with positions never seen before on the international stage. Their score of 66.32 easily placed them in first over reigning World Champions Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.
As the Germans took the ice for their short program, it was obvious from their leather day-glow costumes that they would be skating something a little different than the rest. In a program to music from the Lost in Space soundtrack, the German champions showed interesting and complicated transitions and entrances from start to finish. However, a mistake by Szolkowy on their opening triple toe loops took the wind out of their sails immediately.
“We are World Champions, but we are human,” declared Szolkowy. “My body was on the ice tonight, but my head was somewhere else. I hope that I can find out where it was for the free program, because I want to show you all what we have trained to do.”
After Szolkowy doubled an intended triple jump, the team pulled it together to score 64.08 points for a second place finish. The program was jam-packed with difficult elements, including a throw triple flip that Savchenko landed with the grit and determination of a World Champion.
“For us, this season is just like the season before,” said Szolkowy. “We work hard, and we have to practice a lot to get the ‘oohs and aahs’ that we get. We are now the hunted, and we have to work even harder to keep our position.”
In third place are U.S. Champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker who skated a sassy number to Ernesto Lecuona’s variation of Malaguena.
McLaughlin and Brubaker’s program started with an interesting pairs combination spin that was choc-full of personality. But like the Germans, things went a little awry in their solo triple; in this case, a Salchow. Brubaker, normally rock solid on his singles elements, stepped out of his half of the jump, while McLaughlin completed hers.
As the program progressed, the Americans gained momentum, but endured a very bad fall on a throw triple loop. Still, the program components, highlighted by their intricate choreography, propelled them into third with a total score of 57.02 points.
“This program was definitely a step in the right direction,” said an upbeat Brubaker. “All of the choreography is definitely a big challenge for us, and even though we made a couple of mistakes, we feel more comfortable in this program than we did this time last year with our old program.”
Finishing in fourth place were Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin with a score of 54.26. Skating early in the competition to “4 Lamentations,” the 6th place finishers from last year’s World Championships skated well with small errors throughout their program.
“We’re here and we are practicing well,” Buntin explained. “I think that this is a big step up from last year and we’ll just do better in the long.”
After landing a set of tight triple toe loops, Duhamel struggled with the flying camel entrance into the combination spin.
“I laughed about it when it happened,” admitted Duhamel. “I forgot how to do a flying camel for a second, and it just happened to be at the second that I needed to do it, so that kind of sucked. When I saw how it was scored, I stopped laughing.”
The Canadians ended on a great note, however, with a throw triple Lutz, and they look forward to the long program.
“We want to show everybody what we can really do in our long program,” said an optimistic Buntin. “We’re excited to do it!”
In fifth place are former U.S. Champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, who struggled throughout their program to Illumination by Secret Garden. The team began the program with their signature mistake – Baldwin’s doubling of a planned triple toe loop. Immediately following that, Inoue took a hard fall on a credible attempt at a throw triple Axel.
However, strong pairs elements such as a perfectly synchronized side by side spins kept the reigning U.S. silver medalists in contention for a podium spot with a score of 50.00.
Rounding out the competition in 6th place are teammates Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, followed by China’s Yue Zhang and Lei Wang. French Champions Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia are in 8th place.