World Skater Rankings: Perusing the pairsRussians reign supreme; Germans have ground to make up; Canada's top two in the mix
1. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Russia (4649.00) - No one distanced themselves from their main rivals, aside from maybe Yu-Na Kim, more than these two did last season. An undefeated campaign, punctuated by a 20-point win at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, established this Russian duo as the team to beat heading into the Olympic season.
2. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, Germany (2770.20) - These two find themselves at a kind of crossroads: Will they be able to close the widening gap between them and the top-ranked Russians, or will they continue to fall farther and farther behind Volosozhar and Trankov? Their programs last year left a lot to be desired, and the pressure is on for them to come up with something more "them," which is to say, unique and out there. They are almost certainly gearing up for one last run at Olympic gold, something that has thus far eluded these all-time greats.
3. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, Russia (2113.30) - Despite their lofty ranking, these two have been in steady decline the last few years, a fact which became most evident last season. To wit: They came in dead last at the 2012 Grand Prix Final, took fifth at the 2013 European Figure Skating Championships (their lowest-ever finish at the event) and concluded the year by placing sixth at the world championships. Their days of being legitimate podium threats at the big events appear to be over.
4. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canada (1981.22) - This team's rapid ascent in the rankings continued last season, as a win at the 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and a third-place finish at worlds cemented them as viable medal contenders in Sochi. Skating to original music composed by Radford for their short program this season should only serve to enhance their connection on the ice.
5. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, Russia (1869.40) - Injuries and off-ice circumstances played a key role in derailing this team last season, but they have only themselves to blame for once again coming up small at worlds, where they finished seventh. The talent is clearly there -- they came within three points of beating Volosozhar and Trankov at the Grand Prix Final -- and if they can harness it at the right time, we could see them on the podium in Sochi.
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, Canada (1512.20) - A return to prominence was just what these two needed to set them up for the all-important Olympic season. After a down year in 2011-12, this Canadian duo showed off world-class elements and pulled down the results to match, finishing second at Four Continents and fourth at worlds. Overcoming their higher-ranked country mates is going to be a challenge, but they have put themselves squarely in the mix for a medal in Sochi.
7. Qing Pang and Jian Tong, China (1354.50) - A look at their declining finishes at recent world championships -- first in 2010, third in 2011, fourth in 2012, fifth in 2013 -- is a clear indicator that this pair's best days are behind them. While it's impressive that these two, after nearly a decade and a half of world-class competition, are still able to perform at such a high level, they are a shell of their former selves and can no longer be considered an elite team.
8. Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, Italy (1099.40) - There were a lot of positives to be found in this Italian couple's 2012-13 season: They turned in their best Grand Prix season to date, winning a pair of bronzes and just missing out on their first trip to the Final as a result of a tie-breaker, and they took home their first medal, a bronze, from the European championships. (The latter marked the first time an Italian pair had ever finished on the podium at an ISU championship.) On the world level, however, they're stuck in neutral, with finishes of either 10th or 11th at all four of their appearances at the season-ending event. They would like nothing more than a single-digit finish at that competition, not to mention the Olympics, next season.
9. Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, France (1030.65) - Few teams made as notable an improvement in 2012-13 as James and Ciprès. After spending their first year together getting to know each other, and acclimating Ciprès to pairs, which he'd never skated before, these two got to work last season, and it showed in the results. They impoved from sixth to fourth at Europeans and from 16th to eighth at worlds. While they'll be hard pressed to move up much higher than that, they've served notice that they're a team that's here to stay.
10. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, Russia (958.90) - The most disheartening thing to be in figure skating, and any Olympic sport, really, is fourth -- just ask Stolbova and Klimov. If they skated for any other country, they'd likely be more highly regarded, but there are three other teams from Russia ranked higher than them, and so they must wait their turn. Assuming they stay together and some of the teams ahead of them retire after next season, they will be ones to watch in the coming quadrennuim.
Next five: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (China), Caydee Denney and John Coughlin (U.S.), Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (U.S.), Lina Fedorova and Maxim Miroshkin (Russia), Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers (Canada)