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Germans easily run away with second world title

Zhang, Zhang take silver; Kavaguti, Smirnov grab bronze

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy show off their new gold medals on Wednesday.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy show off their new gold medals on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/26/2009) - If it had been a foot race, the field would have been lapped.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won their second world title in convincing -- make that crushing -- fashion, taking home the gold by nearly 17 points.

Their victory at the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships was so easy they even shared a laugh over their only significant error -- Szolkowy's fluky fall during their footwork sequence.

"I cannot say what happened; I just lost my weight somewhere," he said. "The fall was easy, it didn't hurt and it was not a big problem for me to get back to the program. It was kind of funny because it never happens."

The other top pairs made last night's short program a contest, and the Germans entered the STAPLES Center on Wednesday with just a 3.36-point lead. But once the strains of Schindler's List sounded, they were in a class by themselves, landing three side-by-side triple jumps (a triple toe loop sequence and a Salchow); two strong triple throws, one as their final element; and spectacular lifts.

"I'm very proud of my couple," said coach Ingo Steuer, who won the world pair title in 1997 with partner Mandy Wötzel. "Now they have won for the second time. This year was even harder. They skated very, very well, just like in practice."

That's almost unheard-of praise from Steuer, a driven perfectionist who constantly creates new and innovative moves and transitions that will set his team apart. Tonight, the technical panel awarded Level 4s for six of the team's eight rated elements.

This win marks the couple as overwhelming favorites for next year's Olympic Games, a position that doesn't trouble Savchenko.

"Every competition is different, but we approach every one the same way," she shrugged. "We will keep on working."

Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China won a third world silver medal, this time with a solid if uninspiring outing to "Yangtze River Piano Concerto," choreographed by Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva. The athletic duo, best known for their soaring triple twist and huge throws, failed to complete a double Axel-triple toe combination and also doubled intended triple Salchows.

"The skating was just so-so, but we are very happy because we have won second place so many times," the good-natured Hao Zhang said through an interpreter.

"The solo jumps were the [problem]," said Bin Yao, the team's coach. "Today we had two mistakes. Their choreography and skating skills must also improve; we have been working with Russian-American coaches [Shpilband and Zueva] on that."

Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov recovered from her scary fall on an attempted throw quadruple Salchow to claim third place in the free skate and third overall with 186.39 points, just 13 hundredths behind the Chinese.

"Well, I didn't break anything, so I just continue," said the Japanese-born Kavaguti, who became a Russian citizen in February. "It wasn't a catastrophe, but it was really hurting. Tomorrow it's going to be bruised."

"I was very happy with the short program. Unfortunately, the free was not as good," added Smirnov through an interpreter. "It's too bad about the quad throw, because in practice, Yuko did it clean on one foot. We'll do it next time."

Former world champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China placed fourth with a sophisticated Tango routine choreographed by Sarah Kawahara. Another Russian pair, Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, rounded out the top five.

The two U.S. pairs had mixed results: newcomers Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett were thrilled with their ninth-place finish, while two-time U.S. champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker were not nearly as pleased.

Denney and Barrett, who re-teamed last May after training together for four months in 2006, delivered a clean, stirring performance to Spartacus that brought the crowd to its feet.

"Last year, I didn't have a partner, and I wasn't even skating," said Barrett, 24, who drives his Florida rink's Zamboni, teaches learn-to-skate classes and works as a personal trainer to raise money for his skating.

"Just to be here was enough. To skate like that was unreal."

"We do what we did out there everyday in practice," added Denney, who is just 15. "We've done that program hundreds of times. To finish the year off with that kind of performance was awesome."

Not surprisingly, McLaughlin and Brubaker, who failed to complete several important elements in their West Side Story performance, were far more subdued about their disappointing, 11th-place result.

"It's just one of those things," Brubaker said. "We got really excited about our [opening] triple twist, and things got out of sync from there.

"We're going to go home and keep working. This was a learning experience, and we have a good idea of what we need to accomplish."