Superstars Volosozhar, Trankov set pairs recordRussians crush Nebelhorn field; USA's Davis, Brubaker finish fifth
Russian world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov presented their new programs for the first time this season and easily won the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy with 231.96 points, an unofficial world record.
Their pairs short program was superb, but their free skate marks -- especially those for program components (PCS) -- were especially high. Their PCS at Nebelhorn averaged about 9.4.
Volosozhar and Trankov's free skate is set to music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. They are costumed as classic 1960's hippies who are expressing their ideas of free love.
"We play Jesus Christ and Maria Magdalena, like in the rock opera," Trankov said. "We start with the prelude and the slow part (the Aria of Jesus)."
"It was not so easy to skate today. We made some minor mistakes, but we are happy we won Nebelhorn for the third time," he continued. "It is already a tradition for us to start our seasons here. I hope it will be a golden season again."
Most of the Russians' elements were excellent. Their huge triple twist gained Level 4 and earned eight +3 grades of execution (GOEs) from the nine judges. Trankov's triple Salchow was a bit shaky but still gained plus points from six judges, and the throw triple loop was scored without error. All three lifts were in the last 75 seconds.
"We are very excited to compete in Russia at the Olympic Games," Trankov said. "Before coming here, we spent a month in Sochi. We will work more on our acting with mimes to get a better artistic impression."
Volosozhar and Trankov's top rivals, four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, did not compete at Nebelhorn, but three other German pairs placed second, third and fourth.
Husband-and-wife team Maylin and Daniel Wende took silver with 174.88 points. Nebelhorn was their first competition since 18 months after suffering from several injuries. They kept their free skate from the 2011-12 season to the Irish "Your Highness" and interpreted it well.
Their twist was only doubled, but the triple throw Salchow (which followed only three seconds later) and the three lifts were excellent. Their side-by-side triple toe loop combinations were not done in unison, and Maylin put her hand down on a double Axel.
"Competitive skating is not easy," Maylin said. "We are very happy to be back and get a medal here in our hometown of Oberstdorf and hope to have a good season."
"If you are married and really love each other, it is easier to forgive mistakes," she continued.
Mari Vartmann and Aaron van Cleave of Berlin earned 162.81 points and won bronze. Skating to Notre-Dame de Paris, most of their elements were good, but Vartmann fell on the throw triple loop and the side-by-side triple Salchow, and van Cleave singled the Salchow.
"Last season was a rough year for us," said Van Cleave, who is trying to add German citizenship to his current U.S. and Canadian citizenships. "Last year, we could not skate the long program here, so it is a step forward. Plus, we did the triple twist for the first time in competition in both programs."
"I am happy I did not brake Aaron's nose this time, which I did last year here in practice," Vartman said.
Assuming Van Cleave obtains German citizenship in time, these two German pairs will fight to gain the country's second pairs spot for Sochi. Unlike in the U.S., the national championships do not count for much. The decision will likely be made according to points won at international competitions.
The young pair of Annabelle Prölss and Ruben Blommaert moved from fifth after the short to fourth position with 158.38 points. Prölss is too young to compete in Sochi.
Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker, who train in Canton, Mich., under Johnny Johns and Marina Zoueva, moved up from sixth to fifth position with 156.91 points.
The new U.S. pair skated to Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and the majority of their elements -- including the triple twist and two triple throws -- were clean. However, Brubaker stepped out of the triple Salchow, and they aborted a lift, which therefore gained no points.
"Each time we compete is a learning experience because we are such a new team and have skated together only since the end of February," Davis said. "We still have to learn how to compete together. We missed a couple of little things, but next time we will be better."
"We definitely have a lot of things to work on," Brubaker said. "The biggest thing for the next few weeks until Skate Canada is not missing major elements. This is a process; the more experience you get, the better it is. We have the ability to show good programs. When we skate well, it will be magic."
Canadians Natasha Purich and Mervin Tran dropped from third after the short to sixth after missing four elements. They ended with 156.15 points.
The following four countries have qualified pairs spots for Sochi:
1. Great Britain's Stacey Kemp and David King, who performed their free skate to Beatles music far better than they did at Skate Detroit in July
2. Ukrainians Elizaveta Usmantseva and Roman Talan
3. Estonians Natalja Zabijako and Alexandr Zaboev
4. Israelis Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski
The new Japanese pair of Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara placed 11th after a weak free skate and ended up the fifth-best pair of those competing for an Olympic spot. Japan, therefore, is first substitute in case another country elects not to use its spot. Austria is second substitute.
Reporter's notebook: Each country qualifying for the Olympic team event can nominate one skater or couple in a discipline that did not qualify an entry on its own. Therefore, Japan can still compete in the team event in Sochi, provided Cathy Reed and Chris Reed qualify in the ice dance event.