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Germans shake off Sochi disappointment, win short

Savchenko, Szolkowy lead Duhamel, Radford by two points; Russians third
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Four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are halfway to a fifth world title after posting 79.02 points in their 'Pink Panther' short program. It was a nice recovery for the Germans after a disappointing bronze-medal finish at the Olympics. -Getty Images

Four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy ignited the Saitama Super Arena crowd with a near-perfect performance of their slinky Pink Panther short program, gaining 79.02 points and taking a two-point lead over Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships.

The Germans, who will retire after this competition, opened with an excellent throw triple flip, followed by a triple twist and side-by-side triple toe loops in perfect unison. Their four other elements gained Level 4, including a loop lasso lift with a very difficult change of position in the air. Their components averaged 9, with a few reaching 9.5.

"Today's performance was quite good," Savchenko, 30, said. "We are really happy with our skating, and the audience was great. It didn't feel like it was the last short program of our career. For this day, it was good."

After winning a second disappointing Olympic bronze medal last month, Savchenko and Szolkowy went home and worked double-time the last few weeks, running through their competitive programs each morning while on tour in Switzerland with Art on Ice. Their payoff here was not only the lead but tremendous applause from the mostly full 18,000-seat arena.

"The first three elements were work; the rest was to enjoy," Szolkowy said. "Even before we started, I noticed that the people really like us, maybe even love us, and it was fun. It was the right decision to come here."

As an afterthought, the 34-year-old skater smiled and added, "And I did my toe loop."

Duhamel and Radford had a career-best skate to "Tribute," music composed by Radford to honor all the people who have helped the skaters in their career, particularly his late coach, Paul Wirtz, who died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2006.

The Canadian champions, who placed seventh in Sochi, opened with a very good triple twist, followed by clean side-by-side triple Lutzes. (They are the only pair in the world performing this element.) Four other elements got a Level 4.

"We were very happy about our short program," Duhamel said. "We came here to do a clean long program, so we hope to be able to do the same tomorrow. Today was just a bonus. It was a great audience, which really means something to us."

With the absence of Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Radford considers this post-Olympic worlds a great opportunity.

"There is more potential for interesting results and some surprises," he said.

Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor KIimov, the surprise Olympic silver medalists, are third with a personal-best 76.15 points. All their elements were clean as well. The highlights in their flamenco program were the throw triple flip and a dynamic step sequence.  

"We spent a lot of power and emotions in Sochi, so it was difficult for us to prepare for this championship," Klimov said. "We are happy we could show our best. It was a good skate, and we are pleased that we skated this program the last time so well."

"We did feel some pressure, [because] we are here as the top Russian pair, so we are supposed to skate like the top Russian pair," Stolbova said.

China's three-time world junior champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are fourth with 72.24 points. Their short to music from La Strada had excellent elements, including a huge triple throw flip, for which five of the nine judges awarded a +3 grade of execution (GOE).

China's Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang also gave a very good performance and sit fifth with 71.68 points. Canadian silver medalists Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch earned 69.31 points after a clean and charming rendition of their Micmacs short, landing in sixth.

U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who placed ninth in Sochi, sit 11th here after making a few costly mistakes in their Santana short.

The Boston-based pair opened with a big triple twist, but Shnapir doubled the Salchow. Their death spiral was not correctly executed, and they received no points for the element. They did land a throw triple Salchow and came away with 60.60 points.

"The short program wasn't what we wanted," Castelli said. "We didn't put out our best performance today, but we are definitely prepared to be ready for tomorrow (the free skate). We did a great job fighting for the program."

U.S. silver medalists Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay entered as last-minute alternates for Caydee Denney and John Coughlin after Denney injured her ankle last Wednesday.

Skating to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel Waltz, the Ellenton, Fla., team made no glaring mistakes. The triple twist and throw triple Lutz were solid, but Zhang underrotated her triple toe loop. They sit 14th with 57.59 points.

"We've been keeping up with our training even after the Olympics, doing show numbers as well as these competition programs," Zhang said. "I think that has helped with our components; the programs start to flow. We feel confident being here, and we're ready to go."

"We have a lot of respect for that first alternate position," Bartholomay said. "We still pushed the training and cardio. It feels awesome to put out a season's best here."

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