The pressure of intense competition for three spots on the national team proved to be too much for the majority of the competitors in the Pairs Short Program.
One of the few teams to skate clean, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, walked away with the overnight lead by a 4-point margin, followed by the defending champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov are currently third.
Skating in the first warm up group, Volosozhar and Trankov stunned the audience with their sky high triple twist and continued to impress with each and every element they performed. The only technical glitch in their program was the loss of unison on a side by side spin, but otherwise this performance would not have looked out of place in the final flight of the World Championships.
The team, who only started skating together last spring, finally achieved the level of confidence many expected from them from the start when they proclaimed the partnership a “dream team”. The skaters even managed to turn their only weakness – the relative lack of rapport between partners – in their favor, building the program around it.
“We are working on fine-tuning the program with Alla Kapranova,” explained Volosozhar. “Her idea for it, the idea which we try to implement, is that it is about duality, conflict and unison, of two powers: male and female. At first we are at odds, but we come together in the end. It is especially evident in the step sequence. In the first half, each of us has his or her own steps and expresses the character by himself, but in the end, we unite.”
“The music has been my idea,” said Trankov. “Before the start of the season, we all sat together and discussed what I, we, wanted to skate to. The tricky part was to find the right arrangement. We started to put a program together to a regular cut of Carmina Burana, but than we have received a lot of different versions from Igor Tchinyaev, a Russian specialist working in Canada, and we picked up this one.”
It was the right choice. With improved confidence, the powerful music no longer overshadows the skaters and instead, highlights their excellent skills both as individual skaters and as a team. With triple twist as high as they get, the students of Nina Mozer did not exclude the possibility of working on a quad twist.
“Maybe later,” said Volosozhar. “For this season we will settle for a triple one I guess.”
“Our main goal is to get good levels,” added Trankov. “Right now we are doing a level two twist. Hopefully by the end of the season we will be able to do a level three one.”
The team, which is not eligible for the European Championships because Volosozhar represented Ukraine at the Olympic Games, plans to participate in two events in Italy and in the Hague to meet the ISU requirements for the minimum score before the World Championships.
“Provided that we qualify at the National Championships,” cautioned Trankov.
Still, even with so many strong teams in the field, few doubt a positive outcome for the new star couple.
Kavaguti and Smirnov were almost equally impressive in their program to Also sprach Zarathustra, however, Kavaguti stumbled out of a triple toe loop landing, and the team later struggled with a lift which only received a level two. With the music demanding perfect command over every move, the mistakes were perhaps more glaring than they would have been otherwise, but the overall impression from their program was still very strong.
“In general we are happy about the way we have skated,” explained Smirnov.”Especially since we have finally received positive grades of execution on a throw and did a clean triple twist. These two elements are the ones we have mostly worked on after Cup of Russia. So what we have worked on, we have done well. The rest, well, I guess we were too emotional and got carried away a bit.”
The team denies that they fill extra pressure due to the intense rivalry for a place in the national team.
“We simply were overzealous, put too much energy into everything and made mistakes. With so much power I could have probably done a quad,” joked Smirnov.
He also admitted that despite his coach’s advice, he has not watched the performances by the other students of Tamara Moskvina, Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev, who have skated to the same tune.
“She told us to watch it,” he said looking over his shoulder to make sure that Moskvina had not sneaked in the audience, “but I decided against it. I do not want to be influenced by it or to imitate it in any way. We just want to make something unique.”
The couple earned 68.15 (34.49/33.66) points and still have a chance to defend their title.
Bazarova and Larionov are virtually tied with the European Champions after the short program. The couple from Perm also was not flawless: Bazarova put a hand down on triple toe loop, but otherwise they were clean and the highlight of their lyrical routine to the music by Secret Garden was a level three triple twist which received +2 from the judges across the board.
“It was not flawless,” admitted Larionov. “There was that small mistake on the triple toe loop, but otherwise it was a good performance.”
The team has already put their poor performance in the long program at the Grand Prix Final behind them.
“I guess we were too nervous,” said Bazarova. “It was our first time at such a prestigious event and we were the top Russian team. All these affected us too much, but we prefer not to talk about it.”
Nonetheless, the students of Ludmila Kalinina believe that “healthy rivalry is good”.
A notch below the top three teams, two teams are virtually tied for fourth place.
Katarina Gerboldt and Alexander Enbert performed a nearly flawless and engaging waltz, nailing their opening side-by-side triple Salchows, but later had a weak catch on the triple twist. They picked up 61.99 (33.93/28.06) points.
“We are very happy with the way we skated tonight,” said Gerboldt. “It was the best performance of our career so far.”
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are close behind after a passionate performance to flamenco music. The Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalists were sharp and inspired, but they only executed a double twist and Stolbova had a shaky landing on her triple toe loop. They are fifth with 61.03 (32.50/28.53) points.
Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze opened their program to Figaro with a fall on a triple toe loop and later almost collided with each other during side by side spins, but in terms of overall impression, their playful and challenging routine was one of the highlights of the event. They are currently sixth with 58.88 (30.60/29.08).
Maria Mukhortova and Jerome Blanchard, another team, which was expected to compete for high spots, struggled with the technical content of their soft routine to Secret Garden. Even though the student of Oleg Vasiliev, whose preparation for the event was handicapped by injures of both skaters, made only one noticeable mistake (Blanchard fell on triple toe loop), low levels of difficulty on non-jumping elements did not allow them to place higher than 7th with 53.78 points (26.26/28/52).