Ice Network

Savchenko, Massot rally to win Olympic gold medal

Sui, Han drop one spot to take silver; Duhamel, Radford claim bronze
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Sitting fourth after the short, Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot delivered a rousing performance of their "La Terre vue du ciel" when it mattered most. Their free skate score of 159.31 surpassed their previous world mark of 157.25, helping the Germans register 235.90 points in total and secure the Olympic gold medal. -Getty Images

A journey that spanned five Olympics, two countries and three partners ended in gold for Aliona Savchenko on Thursday, when she and Bruno Massot performed a mesmerizing free skate that vaulted them from fourth after the short program to the top of the PyeongChang podium.

"If I didn't believe in what I do, I would not do it," said the 34-year-old Savchenko, who won five world titles for Germany with Robin Szolkowy before teaming up with Massot, 29, in March of 2014.

"I believed from the beginning, when I proposed that Bruno should skate with me and (we built) our team and our coaches," she added. "I believed from beginning to end, this story would be a dream come true."

After Massot doubled an intended triple salchow in Wednesday's short program, it seemed almost certain that Savchenko -- who won Olympic bronze medals with Szolkowy in 2010 and 2014 -- would have to again settle for less than gold. She and Massot entered the free skate trailing China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han by 5.57 points, and the young Chinese skaters, who won the world title last season, are well-known for their competitive mettle.

But the Germans' free skate to "La Terre vue du ciel (Earth from Above)" by Armand Amar, choreographed by 1984 Olympic ice dance champion Christopher Dean, was sheer magic, with a soaring triple twist, perfectly synchronized triple jumps, two huge throw triple jumps and spectacular lifts nestled within strikingly sensitive choreography. It earned 159.31 points, a new international standard, including a host of +2 and +3 Grades of Execution (GOEs) and nine "perfect 10" program component scores.

That score was enough to defeat Sui and Han, who made several small jumping mistakes, by just 0.43 points. It was a result even Alexander Koenig, who trains Savchenko and Massot in Oberstdorf, Germany, could hardly believe.

"I thought no way, no way," Koenig said. "I was hopeful they could go better than yesterday, because they worked really hard and were focused, and then they had the mistake in the short. This was the best I imagined they could skate, every element."

"(The deficit) was around six points, it was difficult to accept it," Massot said. "But we had a meeting yesterday, all the team, and we were speaking, 'Today is today, it's competition, but tomorrow is another day and we have to attack this free program like tigers.'"

That they did, even outdoing their sterling effort at the Grand Prix Final in December, where they also won gold. The pair sat out the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships in order to rest their bodies and polish the program.

"For the last two months, since the Grand Prix Final, we really worked on all the small details -- the eyes, the head positions, the straight legs, arms, which (are) very important," Massot said. "When we feel good in the music, good in the choreography, we can give more emotions and share with everybody."

Savchenko, who competed for her native Ukraine before moving to Germany in 2003, selected the Frenchman Massot as a partner largely due to his height -- more than six feet -- and strong, athletic build. She wanted to be thrown higher, she said at the time, and wanted to maximize points in the lifts.

After a few bumps -- the German figure skating federation had to pay the French association more than $30,000 to release Massot -- the pair gelled quickly, winning two world and two European medals the last two seasons.

"Bruno and I moved from Chemnitz in East Germany to Oberstdorf in Southern Germany," Savchenko said. "We chose each and every one in our support staff. We really believed in our team. We created something new. We are together like a big family. Then I met my husband. Many things happened, unexpectedly, for the good."

There were also hardships. Before teaming with Savchenko, Massot had competed just once at the world championships, placing 15th in 2014 with a previous partner. He had to rise to Savchenko's level, and he had to do it quickly.

"My job was to show him, to help him on the way, to accept that Aliona as a partner could do better things than he could," Koenig said. "It was, 'Please move your butt, keep going, work hard, follow her.' Sometimes it was hard for him to accept, but he worked harder and harder."

As for Savchenko, she never doubted she and Massot could overcome the short program deficit and bring home gold.

"For me, it is everything. I never give up," she said. "Just yesterday somebody texted me and said, 'If Yuzu (Hanyu) in 2017 (at the world championships) goes from fifth place to first, you can too.' And that's right. You never know what can happen. It's all my life, fighting."

Fighters in their own right, Sui and Han delivered a strong, majestic program to Puccini's Turandot that opened with a quad twist and featured Sui's beautiful landing position and runout on two triple throws. But Han singled an intended double in a triple toe combination, and Sui turned out of the landing of a triple salchow. In addition, they lacked the Germans' power and speed on lifts, and their 153.08 points put them third in the free skate. They won silver with 235.47 points.

"I feel regret, because to lose by such a narrow margin...I thought we had what it takes to get the (gold) medal," Sui said.

Han emphasized that the pair was happy they were able to compete. In May of 2016, Sui had surgery on both feet, and spent months off of the ice, at first re-learning to walk and run. The skaters returned with a win at the 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, then went on to claim the world title.

"One week before coming here, Sui had a wound in her foot and we suspected a fracture," Han said. "The result better than expected, there was inflammation in her foot. We tried to control the amount of training, and also there were (12) stitches, so it affected our practice schedule. Still, overall everything was under control."

Although clearly disappointed -- Sui's eyes were red and puffy in the press conference -- the Chinese, at ages 22 and 25 (according to their federation's records), are young enough to plan for the 2022 Games in Beijing.

"We really wanted to get the gold medal, but this is our first time here," Sui said. "I hope four years later in China we can do our best to get the medal."

Two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada placed second in the free skate and won the bronze medal with a stirring program to Adele's "Hometown Glory" that included a strong throw quadruple salchow, the first quad throw ever landed in an Olympic Games. Their only error -- a tiny one -- was Duhamel's hand down on a triple lutz, and they finished with 230.15 points.

It was the Canadians second medal of the Games: they helped lead Canada to gold in the team event with strong outings in both the short program and free skate.

"When I was standing there in the podium in the Olympic Plaza just a few days ago, I was thinking how amazing it would be if I could come back and have one more ceremony," Duhamel said. "We used that to inspire us. We thought maybe some people would think it was crazy we did the entire team event, but I felt it would be a benefit to us, because we would enter this competition feeling comfortable and at home in this arena."

At the final press conference, the Germans and Chinese stated they intended to compete at the world championships next month. For Duhamel, 32, and Radford, 33, this is their final eligible competition.

"We are going to keep our foot in the door, when it comes to skating," Radford said. "We look forward to doing shows and touring for as long as possible."

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, second after the short program, opened their free with a quad twist, but Tarasova doubled an intended triple salchow and fell out of the landing of a throw triple salchow. They dropped to fourth place with 224.93 points. Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès of France had a solid, if imperfect, free to place fifth with 218.53 points.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim opened their free skate to music from Ghost the Musical with a quad twist, but jumping mistakes -- including Chris' fall on a triple toe -- hurt their score. They were 15th in the free and 15th overall with 185.82 points.

"The twist was the highlight of our program, unfortunately," Chris said. "We were the first Americans to do it at the Olympics, so that's exciting."

News of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, appeared on CNN in the skater's waiting room, deeply affecting the couple.

"I'm disappointed in the way we performed today but they are so many people hurting at home getting the news their children died," Alexa said. "I wasn't focused on that when we were skating, I was doing my job, but now that it's done, it's been an emotional week, it's been hard, and to finish with a more-than disappointing skate and with a heavy heart for those who were lost today, I'm just overwhelmed."