The podium matched the standings after the pairs figure skating short program Saturday night in Kent, Wash., at the 2012 Skate America competition. Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov remained undefeated in Grand Prix events save for the Final, winning the gold medal over former World Champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong.
“We won our first Grand Prix of the season,” noted Trankov. “That was our goal, and we did it.”
“We are a little unhappy with our performance, ” he added, “but we have time because it’s just the beginning of the season and can prepare our programs to get better and better.”
Trankov admitted not being ready for the early schedule.
“I think that it is the first time that I had a 6 AM practice on the day of the free skate in my life,” he said, “but we have to learn to get stronger to overcome things like this.”
The 2011 Russian champs placed first with 129.29 (62.47/67.82) points, earning level four on five elements, and saving most of their technical content for the second half of their Violin Muse program. The lone mistake in an otherwise flawless routine was a fall on a throw triple Salchow near the end of the program, and their total score was a whopping 195.07 points.
“We are looking forward to skating in Moscow at our second event,” Trankov offered. “We want to skate in front of a Russian audience, and it will be easier there for sure because we will be able to go home and we will be in our time zone.”
Pang and Tong, competing in their thirteenth Grand Prix season, demonstrated that experience is a key ingredient to success in the pairs skating, showing incredible poise in the face of adversity.
“Because of the injury to my knee, we had to make some changes to the program,” Tong revealed. “We changed the triple toe into a double. Because of the pain after the short program, I’ve been taking medication for it. We were really worried if we could compete the free skate.”
The 2010 Olympic silver medalists recently announced their engagement, and skated a romantic program to Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme for orchestra, Op. 36, perhaps inspired by their own lives. Though they did not receive credit for their forward outside death spiral, Pang and Tong did earn positive grades of execution (GOE) on all of their other elements.
The former Chinese champions placed second in the long with 123.20 (57.59/65.61) points, and their overall score of 185.16 points kept them in silver medal position.
“Skating actually feels more natural now that we are engaged,” Pang said. “Every time I touch him in the programs, it feels more real. I don’t feel like I am acting throughout the program. It’s genuine.”
Her partner added with a laugh, “The biggest change for me is when I made a mistake yesterday and she did not complain, but instead was very encouraging.”
U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin snatched the first Grand Prix medal of their budding partnership, finishing with the bronze medal.
“We are very happy with how we skated today,” Denney said. “It’s always great to skate in America with the home crowd supporting us. We’re looking forward to taking what we did here today and growing upon it.”
Their Phantom of the Opera program showed an increased level of theatricality and improved positions from last season. The 2012 Four Continents silver medalists also cashed in on their technical prowess, earning the second highest technical marks of the night with 117.47 (59.97/57.50) points.
Their total score of 178.22 points is a solid start for their sophomore season.
“I think our components are moving in the right direction,” Coughlin said. “Obviously we watched the teams that we aspire to compete with. We see where we need to improve, especially with our short program, which I think is well documented. We are looking to refine and fine tune the little nuances and characters, and if that happens, the components will come.”
Finishing in fourth was the French team of Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres who showed great improvement since their debut as a team last season. Their total score of 167.44 points was more than ten points better than their previous personal best.
Americans Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir finished in fifth place with a personal best of 164.69 points, while training mates Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff moved up to sixth place with 131.26 points.
The Israeli team of Danielle Montalbano and Evgeni Krasnopolski finished in seventh.