Savchenko, Szolkowy win pairs short at Europeans

Kavaguti, Smirnov less than a point behind in second

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy lead after the pairs short program in Tallinn.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy lead after the pairs short program in Tallinn. (Getty Images)


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By J. Barry Mittan, special to
(01/19/2010) - Three-time defending European pairs champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany got a nice birthday present for Savchenko, who turned 26, when they took the lead after the pairs short program at the European Championships in Tallinn, Estonia.

Skating to "Send in the Clowns" the couple scored 74.12 points, slightly below their season's best.

"We had fun to skate," Szolkowy said. "However, some levels were not so high. The twist and the death spiral didn't get the level that we expected and this can be the tenths of a point that can make the difference."

Second place went to current Russian pairs champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, who scored 73.92 points, more than five points better than their previous mark this season and only .20 behind the German team.

"We were very happy with our performance today," Kavaguti said. "We wanted to get better and better with each competition and we did."

Tamara Moskvina's latest Olympic medal contenders skated to "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saens, the same short program as last season although there is a different arrangement in the second part of the program.

"We kept 'The Swan' because we love it," Kavaguti said. "We like skating to it."

Teammates Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, who beat Savchenko and Szolkowy for the first time at the French ISU Grand Prix event this season, placed third. They earned 73.54 points, also a season's best, skating to Secret Garden's "Appassionata". They are less than a point behind the leaders.

"We skated really well and we don't know why we got that kind of score," Mukhortova said. "It was our best short program of the season. All the emotions we show in our program are not studied or choreographed. They come from our hearts."

"We got lower levels on the death spiral and the footwork and we did the same elements in the Grand Prix and got higher marks," Trankov added. "I don't understand why we lost those levels."

The two teams have traded the bronze medals at Europeans the last two seasons with Mukhortova and Trankov coming out ahead in 2008 and Kavaguti and Smirnov leading in 2009.

Ukraine's Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov were fourth again after the short with their "Dreams Illusion" program. They also bettered their season's best by more than four points with a score of 67.60.

"We think that the judges were somehow too careful [with the marks]," Volosozhar said. "We'll see how it will be tomorrow."

Russia's Vera Bazarova and Yuri Laranov, who are competing in their first European Championships, placed fifth in the short with a season's best 55.84 points while skating to "Sadness".

"There were a few minor errors on the solo jump and the throw triple loop, but overall it felt surprisingly easy to skate," Bazarova said.

The top four teams all attempted most of the same major elements including a triple Lutz twist lift, side-by-side triple toe loops, and a Group 4 lift. All the top pairs except Savchenko and Szolkowy landed a throw triple loop, while the Germans opted for a throw triple flip.

Each of the top four teams completed all the elements without a major error and had positive Grades of Execution (GOEs) on every element.

Italy's Nicole Della Monica and Yannick Kocon, sixth last season at Europeans, were again in sixth place after the short with 52.64 points.

"There was not really more pressure than last year," Kocon said. "We just tried to be more present today."