Ice Network

Welcome back: Vintage Volosozhar, Trankov lead

Warm reception propels Savchenko, Massot; Tarasova, Morozov third
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With a performance that was reminiscent of the ones they gave during their dominant 2013-14 season, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov set themselves apart from the field Friday. The Olympic champions secured a segment-best score of 79.77 for their Bollywood-themed short and opened up a lead of more than four points heading into the free skate. -Getty Images

Here they are again.

Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, the 2014 Olympic gold medalists, and two-time Olympic bronze medalist Aliona Savchenko (with former partner Robin Szolkowy) are back, and they are as good as ever.

The Russians won the short program in their return to the European championships with 79.77 points, ahead of Savchenko and her new partner, Bruno Massot (75.54). Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third (70.17). Fourth place went to Mari Vartmann and Ruben Blommaert of Germany, who stand more than seven points off the podium with 62.90 points, ahead of France's Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès.

"We will improve, step by step," Volosozhar and Trankov said after their short program at 2015 Trophée Eric Bompard, some two months ago. "It will be a little bit closer to the Volosozhar-Trankov you knew two years ago."

The Olympic champions did just that in their short program at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships, landing all their elements, including a superlative triple twist, side-by-side triple salchows, and a throw triple flip. Their twist, lift, step sequence and spin all earned Level 4. They received excellent components as well, from 8.96 points for transitions to 9.43 for performance and interpretation. The team topped its season's best by more than five points.

With Trankov in plain white and Volosozhar dressed in an Indian-style green outfit, the duo interpreted their "Nagada Sang Dhol" Bollywood music with style and spirit.

"We're very happy to see you all again after a very long time!" Trankov told the journalists at the post-event press conference. "Our skate was not the best today; we did it better in practice. Our elements were not as spectacular as we can do (them). Still, we're happy overall, although we're not quite satisfied."

Germany's Savchenko and Massot were greeted with an incredible ovation as they stepped onto the ice. They skated first in the second group, an hour and a half before the last group took the ice. They delivered an exquisite program, carved to "Creature from Siam" from Cirque du Soleil. Their opening triple twist was impressively high, seeming almost delayed. They followed with a throw triple flip and a side-by-side triple toe loops, which he two-footed.

"It feels good to be here again," a relieved Massot said afterward, "And to feel the atmosphere of the greatest events. The way we were greeted by the audience was just exceptional, and it gave us a lot of energy throughout. We made a small mistake on the toe, but we're really happy with this first outing at this level."

"And we're very happy to skate together!" Savchenko added.

Their program was quite emotional as well -- very soft and subtle -- in a style that will now belong to them and only them. Their spin, lift and step sequence were rated Level 4.

Russia's Tarasova and Morozov skated a near-perfect short program. The music they selected, Michael Flatley's famous and upbeat Lord of the Dance, was an instant hit with the audience, who clapped in sync throughout their program. Their routine featured a triple twist, side-by-side triple toes and a huge throw triple loop (which she put a hand down on the landing).

Tarasova and Morozov displayed several interesting innovations in their routine, especially at the entrance of their death spiral (with him holding her head before taking her arm), and an impressive exit to their lift.

"We try to find things interesting for the audience and the judges," Morozov confirmed afterward. "We're very happy to have 70 points."

Vartmann and Blommaert left the kiss and cry wondering why they had lost points. They soon discovered that some of their levels were not what they expected. At the end of the afternoon, however, they realized that they stood in fourth place overall.

"We're very happy with our performance," Blommaert said. "This is our first big event together. We're especially happy with the way we dealt with the event -- the nerves, the situation as a whole. We felt well on the ice today."

France's James and Ciprès were received warmly by the audience (which included Florent Amodio), who cheered and clapped throughout their program, skated to "I Put a Spell on You." James and Ciprès landed all their elements, including their triple twist, side-by-side triple toes and throw triple flip. Unfortunately, James could not hold the edge in the death spiral. They earned 62.10 points.

Italy's Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise are in sixth place heading into the free, ahead of Russia's third team, Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov.

Astakhova and Rogonov qualified for the event only after Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov had to withdraw earlier in the week. The least that can be said is that they deserved the trip -- and Europe deserved to meet them. Skating to music from the soundtrack to The Artist, Asthakova and Rogonov landed their triple twist, side-by-side triple salchows and throw triple flip without hesitation. They emphasized the best of the schools of Saint Petersburg (where their coach, two-time Olympic gold medalist Artur Dmitriev, learned his trade) and Moscow (where they train).

Italy's Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek have undoubtedly improved their style as a pairs team, but their short was not what they were hoping for, as Marchei fell on their throw triple lutz. They sit in eighth place.