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Savchenko, Szolkowy's sad clowns are triumphant

Russians, Canadians also impress

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are concentrating on recapturing some of their former glory at the Olympic Games.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are concentrating on recapturing some of their former glory at the Olympic Games. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/16/2009) - If there were any surprises in the superb pairs' short program event today, it could be that Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy may be even harder to beat than first thought.

The two-time German world champions, who often rely on acrobatic lifts and techno music, turned in a sensitive, lyrical performance to Stephen Sondheim's melancholy "Send in the Clowns." They earned 72.98 points and will take a healthy 6.10-point lead into the free skate.

"This was our second competition this year and it was better than Nebelhorn Trophy, but it was not a hundred percent like we do sometimes in practice," Szolkowy said. "Still, I think it was good.

"Last year we did a very fast short program and this year we wanted to change our style and show we can do something different."

Russians Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov are second with 66.88 points. Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison of Canada sit third with 64.54.

Savchenko and Szolkowy, who have won the last two world championships, hardly put a foot wrong, from their huge opening throw triple flip to their closing lift.

Many of the elements, including their combination spin and steps, were done in the character of clowns, and they were outfitted and made up accordingly.

"Of course it doesn't come easy," Szolkowy said of these subtle, yet effective, touches.

"We tried at first to do the steps and elements, and when they were clear, we worked off the ice on our arms and special positions. But it's not the end. We will continue to work."

The Russians, too, were outstanding, hitting a big triple twist; triple toes; and a throw triple loop in a free-flowing program to "Appassionata" by Secret Garden.

"For us it was very important to skate a clean short program because it's a good start to the season," Trankov said.

"Last season [at Skate America] we had a good short but had problems in the free. Tomorrow I hope we start a new tradition and skate a clean free, too."

Asked what they needed to do to reach the top, Trankov replied, "We must be more sure with our power. And we need to skate [well at] all competitions, [because] that will start giving us more [points] for the second [program component] mark and also give us more confidence."

Mukhortova and Trankov are known to have a difficult personal relationship which sometimes mars their performances. Their coach, 1984 Olympic pairs champion Oleg Vassiliev, thinks that may be behind them.

"Once a skater is 15, a coach cannot say, 'You have to do this,'" Vassiliev said. "The skaters themselves must want to do it. I think and hope they will improve."

Dube and Davison are 2.34 out of second after a solid performance to Mansell's "Requiem for a Dream." The Canadians lost ground on their triple twist, which was not as high and well-landed as the top teams.

"We had a little stumble on the steps, a few things here and there, but we are very happy for the first program of the season," Dube said.

"We really love this music; it's powerful and something we've never really done before," Davison added.

Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia of France placed fourth. Two-time U.S. champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin are fifth with 55.06 points after a fine performance to "Tango de los Exilados" that included strong double Axels and a fine throw triple loop.

"We're pretty happy with it; there were a few flaws but it was the first time out," Baldwin said.

"Our death spiral got a Level 1, which we'll have to review. All our other elements were [graded] as expected. The triple twist isn't our best element, but we're working on it and we put it out there."

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir made their international senior debut with a satisfying performance to "Prelude" by Jesse Cook.

The U.S. world junior bronze medalists hit side-by-side triple Salchows, and their only major flaw came when Castelli stepped out of the landing of the throw triple Salchow.

"I had that little miss on the throw but overall I thought it was really good," Castelli said.

"Our goal was to come here and skate as well as we could, and we did that."