Ice Network

Savchenko, Szolkowy win eighth national title

Pair leaves out triple Axel, confirms it will not compete in team event
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German pair Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, along with coach Ingo Steuer, are gearing up for a Sochi showdown. -Photo courtesy of figureskating-online.com

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy easily ran away with their eighth national gold medal last weekend at the Erika Hess ice arena in Berlin.

The four-time world pairs champions have very good memories of the rink.

"It was in this nice rink where our career started," Savchenko remembered. "We had just trained together for four months and came to our first nationals here. To our own surprise, we easily won and got very positive comments. The experts were enthusiastic and promised us a great career. And now our circle closes in the same rink. This was one of the reasons why we decided to compete here."

In the eyes of the German federation, the results at the German championships are not as important as those of international competitions. Because of this, Savchenko and Szolkowy had skipped their two previous nationals, either because of illness or the event on the week immediately following the Grand Prix Final.

But in their last competitive season, they came -- to the delight of the federation and the 1,500 spectators.

Szolkowy said: "After just returning from Japan with eight hours of time difference, we were very tired and needed some rest. On the one hand, I was not too motivated to compete again. But then we -- and especially Aliona -- decided to finish the circle in the rink where we started 10 years ago."

In their short program, performed to the music "When Winter Comes," which was arranged by violinist André Rieu, six of the seven elements were brilliant: The triple throw flip and the step sequence (Level 4) got mostly +3 grades of execution from the judges. Their only error came when Szolkowy doubled the side-by-side triple toe loop. Their components reached an average of 9.5, and two judges gave a 10.0 for interpretation.

Their Nutcracker free skate looked more mature and elegant than it did at their Grand Prix events. Being tired, and with Savchenko having some minor shoulder problems, they did only a double twist and Savchenko only a single Axel. Nobody cared all that much, however -- the whole program was still very impressive and a beauty to watch.

Like at the Grand Prix Final, they did not try a throw triple Axel.

"We took this element out of our practice and competition because Aliona hurt her back during the Cup of Russia, and we could not train it afterward," coach Ingo Steuer explained. "But it is still part of our training."

Szolkowy added, "The throw triple Axel shouts to us: I want to come back to your programs. Therefore, we plan to keep it in our programs and will train it again in the new year."

Savchenko said the team has gained confidence from defeating its rivals, Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, at the Grand Prix Final without the difficult maneuver.

"In Japan, we could show who is the boss, and we want to show this again in Sochi," she said.

Steuer reiterated that the duo would not take part in the Olympic team event. 

"We have always said that we want to concentrate on our individual Olympic event," he said. "We continued after the 2010 Games mainly because we want to win the gold medal, which we did not win then. Therefore, we will not compete at the team event, because in pair skating, it is too close to our main event. We already booked our flight to Sochi for the day after the team event."

Germany's second pair, Maylin Wende and Daniel Wende, will compete the short program in the team event. Coming into the event as the eighth seed, it is unlikley Germany will reach the free skate portion of the competition, as only the top five countries after the short program will do so.

Second at nationals were the Wendes, who were 17th at the Vancouver Games. They were injured last season, married each other this summer and have qualified for the Olympics a second time. Their strengths are their lifts and charming choreography, which was done by Pasquale Camerlengo in Detroit. Third in pairs were German-born Mari Vartmann and Aaron Van Cleave (who is a U.S. and Canadian citizen).

Peter Liebers of Berlin, 11th at last season's worlds and already a qualifier for Sochi, became German champion for the fifth time, winning with 227.84 points. He has improved the last few years with the help of Toronto-based choreographer Lori Nichol and coach Shin Amano.

The new ladies champion is Nathalie Weinzierl, who got 175.31 points. She had won an Olympic spot for Germany courtesy of her 19th-place finish at worlds last season, but this fall she failed to meet the minimum points requirement at international competition as set forth by the German Olympic committee by 0.4 points. The federation, however, needs her for the Olympic team event and, therefore, it will try to convince the committee to also send her as the ladies representative.

Ice dance champions for the fifth time were Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi, who took the title with 149.41 points. As their 10th-place finish in London won two Olympic ice dance spots for their country, they will be joined in Sochi by German silver medalists Tanja Kolbe and Italian-born Stefano Caruso. Both couples will be making their first trip to the Olympics.

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