Ice Network

Boston brewings: Meet the new Aliona Savchenko

German pairs skater comes out of her shell thanks to new partner, coach
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Since partnering with Bruno Massot, five-time world champion Aliona Savchenko has become more outgoing with the media. -Getty Images

A new Aliona Savchenko is making her worlds debut in Boston: smiling, friendly and so happy to talk to reporters, she has to be reminded it's time to catch the shuttle bus back to the hotel from practice.

"It is so cool to be back at worlds," Savchenko said. "[TD Garden] is an amazing arena. Just being here is a feeling -- how you say? -- I have goosebumps."

Savchenko, 32, competed at 10 world championships with previous partner Robin Szolkowy, winning five of them. Under their talented and intense coach, Ingo Steuer, the Germans also won two Olympic bronze medals, three Grand Prix finals and countless other international medals. But the petite blonde sometimes marched through mixed zones and corridors like a grim, determined soldier, intent on her task and rarely taking time to relax and chat. A new partner, Bruno Massot, and new coach, Alexander Konig, seem to have changed that.

"[Bruno and I] used to practice together in Chemnitz (in 2011 and 2012), but I was never thinking I would continue (after the 2014 Olympic Winter Games) and change partners," Savchenko said. "It was interesting how everything in your life can change in one day."

Szolkowy, now a coach with Nina Mozer's pairs group in Russia, retired after the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships. Savchenko surveyed available males and decided Frenchman Massot, with his six-foot height and strong, athletic build, was the right fit.

"When I decided to skate, I was thinking, what do I need to change to reach my goals? And I was looking for a partner who was taller and stronger," she said. "We have not so many men like that in the world. You can say this is really a small world, actually."

Massot's highest placement at the European championships before he teamed with Savchenko was seventh, in 2013. In January, he and Savchenko won the European silver medal in Bratislava, Slovakia.

"When you have such a talented partner with a lot of experience, you grow up fast," Massot said. "Everything for me was really easy. I don't realize I pass from the middle to the top; I'm just working hard for my partner, and I know now with Aliona I can realize my dreams and my goals."

"(His results) before didn't mean he was bad and he had to work more," Savchenko said. "He had the talent he can show now. A pair couple needs to work together, with the right partner."

The team has trained together for almost two years, but citizenship issues and a now-settled dispute with the French skating federation delayed their competitive debut. Although they have practiced the throw quad salchow at their training site in Oberstdorf, Germany -- and have also worked on quad twist and throw quad flip on the floor -- they do not plan any quad elements in Boston.

"We have so many other things to work on, especially me, the component mark for example," Massot said. "We need the experience. We will try to concentrate on having clean programs for these worlds, and then do more later."

"We prepare everything, but I don't think we will do [a quad] here," said Savchenko, who has vowed to fight for Olympic gold in 2018. "Everything is an option for the future."

Russian pairs arrive late but prepared

On Thursday afternoon, the Russian pairs -- including Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov -- hit the ice at Steriti Memorial Rink for their first practice in Boston. Neither team talked to reporters, but coaches Stanislav Morozov and Vladislav Zhovnirski obliged.

"They came two weeks in advance, to adapt to the time difference," Morozov said, using colleague Zhovnirski as interpreter. "They spent two weeks adjusting to time change and training in West Orange (New Jersey)."

Volosozhar and Trankov ran through their free skate to Dracula soundtracks, showing modifications from their winning program at the European championships.

"We changed the last part of the music; we made it better," Morozov said. "We [switched] the order of the lift and pair spin. And they will do triple salchow-half loop-double salchow jump combination, because it feels better for them."

They won't do a quad twist or throw. Although world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and world silver medalists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China plan multiple quad elements, the Russians are holding firm.

"They practiced quad twist, but they think it's too dangerous an element," Morozov said. "So many couples get injured because of quad throws and twist."

After winning the Grand Prix Final in December with near-perfect programs, Stolbova and Klimov withdrew from Europeans, citing Klimov's right shoulder injury. The top two Russian pairs have not met in competition since the Sochi Games.

"[Klimov] couldn't lift his arm over his shoulder; there was no power," Zhovnirski said. "As I understood it, it was because of muscle tensions, some nerves that were almost dead. So we couldn't do anything for two and a half months -- no twists or throws or lifts. We started trying them again three weeks ago."

Zhovnirski denied rumors in the Russian press that Stolbova and Klimov plan to withdraw, perhaps following the short program.

"They will try their best," the coach said. "[Klimov] never says, 'I am in pain. I cannot do anything.' The nerve is OK now. He can feel his muscles. There was a lot of (physical) therapy."

Zhovnirski added that although the team couldn't perform most pairs elements, the skaters still practiced together.

"Ksenia was so supportive. She was taking care of him, trying to help him," he said. "She was skating by herself, he was skating, they were doing some easy stuff. Now, [their elements] look the same as before."