Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy entered the Olympic season as two-time and reigning World Pairs Champions and were considered top contenders for the Olympic Gold. In the end, the season didn’t go as well as the Germans had hoped, but they medaled in each event they competed in. At the World Championships, the creative team announced that they plan on competing until 2014 to realize their dream of an Olympic gold medal in Sochi.
“This season we went up and down, from zero to 100 and from 100 to zero,” Savchenko summed up. “The body doesn’t know that there are Olympic Games. [This time] it gave a signal that it wasn’t meant to be. It was too much. [When] the body says “stop,” there is nothing you can do about it,” she analyzed, referring to illnesses that hit her several times in the past months.
It was a hard season for the German pair, and only in the very beginning was everything business as usual.
“The year started as it always does, with new programs, with the Nebelhorn Trophy… it was a usual summer and we had no injuries,” recalled Szolkowy.
But then bad luck struck. Savchenko fell sick after the Nebelhorn Trophy, but resumed training in time for their first Grand Prix in Paris. Or so they thought. After a good short program, the Germans completely fell apart in the free skate and made error after error. They barely hung on to the bronze medal.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Savchenko, shaking her head months after the event from last October. “There is no explanation. It was like a black out. It just happened and we couldn’t find ourselves. It was a nightmare. Everything went wrong that could go wrong.”
After this shocking experience, coach Ingo Steuer and the team decided to switch to a new free program – something they had not yet done. The new program to Out of Africa went over very well with the judges and the audience at Skate Canada. Savchenko and Szolkowy performed brilliantly. However, at the Grand Prix Final, they didn’t skate their best. Savchenko apparently was already affected by a bad flu that hit her even harder right after the Final. For more than a week, she was confined to bed, and the team missed Nationals.
The team was not able to get back in to top form before the European Championships, and were beaten by Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov in a somewhat controversial decision. Then, at the Olympic Games, two errors in the free skate prevented the Germans from finishing higher than third. They were disappointed, but they were relieved at the same time to have earned a medal.
Finally at the World Championships, Savchenko and Szolkowy were almost back on track. If not for a double toe in the short program, they probably would have won their third world title. However, they skated very well in the free and finished second overall to China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong.
Incidentally, they felt that maybe it was a good sign that almost everything went wrong before the Olympics. “But it still didn’t go the way we would have liked and we didn’t get what we’ve worked for,” said Savchenko. “Even if we had skated clean, who knows what the result would have been. But it’s over now.”
“It would have been worse if we had won Europeans, Worlds and maybe the Final before,” added Szolkowy. “Then I would be completely depressed. But now I feel that everything just wasn’t the best.”
The Germans were happy with their performance at Worlds, and feel that they delivered their best free skate of the season. “This free program was something you wish for,” Savchenko explained. “We skated with our heart and with emotions. We felt the support of the crowd and we gave something back. You cannot always skate like this.” “We had fun, we smiled and it was real,” her partner continued with a laugh. “This is something you cannot imitate. I think we can be happy with the end of the season as we moved up.”
Many fans are happy to hear that 26-year-old Savchenko and 30-year-old Szolkowy are committed to another Olympic cycle.
“Why did many people think that we wouldn’t continue?” Savchenko wondered.
“For me, it was clear immediately [to continue],” stated Szolkowy. “I’ve always said that I don’t look at a placement that I feel happy with, but that I look at the performance and the emotion, which in the end results in a certain placement. I could it express also in this way: I wasn’t satisfied with bronze at the Olympic Games. It wasn’t our best performance. We’ll see if I survive another four years. It could happen that I reach the point in two or three years when I say ‘that’s it’. You never know. But in Vancouver I felt immediately that this wasn’t it.”
Savchenko agreed. “It was clear to me as well, but I wasn’t sure how Robin felt about it. I thought it would be a shame to retire with a bad result. I know that we can do more, that there is more for us to achieve.”
The team now feels motivated for the next season and wants to benefit from all their experiences, both good and bad, from the past season.
“Everything has been so difficult that I’m telling myself just to enjoy now,” Savchenko said. “Obviously we have a lot of work ahead of us. We have to find something new and we have to work on new elements and new difficulties. The competition is getting tougher and tougher. Almost everybody was at the same level, element-wise. We need to find something interesting and we need to continue to develop. We want to win, we want to be the best, and this is motivating us.”
When asked if they are planning on working on a quad throw or a triple throw Axel, Savchenko replied, “We have to up the level of difficulty. We have to try all this. Who doesn’t risk, can’t win.”
The Germans definitely want to do two new programs, and apparently already have something in mind, but are not ready to reveal it at this time. “It will be a surprise,” Savchenko smiled, sharing a glance with Szolkowy.
Shortly after Worlds, the Olympic bronze medalists joined an European tour with Evgeni Plushenko, Stéphane Lambiel and others. They performed in 15 shows. “We had everything!” Szolkowy laughed. “It was interesting. It was cool team.” The final show took place in Krefeld, Germany, on April 29 and the skaters were looking forward to a vacation of two weeks. “I think, I’ll just stay home. I’m too tired of flying or driving,” Savchenko sighed.
Savchenko and Szolkowy are resuming their training this month in their hometown Chemnitz. Unlike previous years, they want to stay there over the summer, except for some time in Dresden, not far away. Coach Ingo Steuer arranged with the city to keep the rink open over the long summer break. The skaters don’t mind staying in one place for a change. “Right now I can’t think of anything better,” Szolkowy offered. “When you are traveling as much as we are, it is nice to be home for a while,” Savchenko agreed.
For next season, Savchenko’s biggest wish is ‘health, health and again health’. “This is the most important thing in sports, like bread and water,” she said. “When you are healthy, you can do everything. And then I want some good luck! We have the good will to work hard.”
“Now, we want the past years to settle a bit, take a deep breath and get ready mentally for the next four years,” added Szolkowy.