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Germans are ready for another four years

by Tatjana Flade
Anna Kondakova


Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy

Many fans are happy to hear that Germany’s Aljona Savchenko, 26, and Robin Szolkowy, 30, are committed to another Olympic cycle.

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.

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