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Savchenko, Szolkowy regain world pairs crown

Newly formed Russian team is second; Chinese third

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy became world champions for the third time.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy became world champions for the third time. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/28/2011) - This season, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy showed off their lighter side, and it won them a third world title.

The Germans' near-perfect free skate to music from The Pink Panther earned 144.87 points, a new world record, and they ended with 217.85, eclipsing the standard set by Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao at the 2010 Olympics.

"I think this will go down in history in German figure skating," Savchenko, a former Ukrainian competitor, said.

"It has three great things: it is in Moscow, we skated great, and it is our third world title."

The newly formed pair Tatiana Voloszhar and Maxim Trankov took silver. Defending champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong settled for bronze.

Making their worlds debut, U.S. champions Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin were sixth, the highest U.S. pair finish since Rena Inoue and John Baldwin's fourth in 2006. U.S. silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig placed 11th. The results retained two U.S. world pair spots for the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships.

The Germans attacked their routine from the start, opening with a huge throw triple flip followed by a solid triple toe-triple toe sequence. All of their elements, including a throw triple Salchow in the program's final seconds, were spot on.

"We feel this music well, we move to it well," Savchenko said. "This program worked for us."

For Volosozhar and Trankov, who have skated together for less than a year, their free to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet was nothing short of miraculous.

After opening with the event's highest triple twist, Trankov turned out of the landing of their first triple toe, the team's only mistake.

More impressive than the triple throws and jumps were their matched lines, inventive lift and spiral positions, and superb unison on spins. They earned 210.73 overall, some seven points lower than the Germans, who have skated together since 2003.

"We wanted to show our best here, because it is our first major international competition," Volosozhar said. "We had to miss Europeans because of my citizenship and competition status."

Last season, Volosozhar competed for Ukraine with Stanislav Morozov. Morozov, who now acts as one of the team's coaches, retired after the 2010 Olympics, clearing the way for Volosozhar to team with Trankov.

The team's sterling effort ignited hopes that they may restart the Russian Olympic pair dynasty, which was interrupted by Shen and Zhao's victory in Vancouver.

"Of course if we didn't have any hopes for a medal in Sochi we wouldn't have created this pair," Trankov said. "That is what it is all about. We made this change because we have aspirations for Sochi."

Pang and Tong, who held a one-point lead after the short, lost any chance at a third world title in the first seconds of their program when Tong singled an Axel. They settled for bronze, their fifth worlds medal, with 204.12 points overall.

"Today was a good chance for us, but I missed it," Tong said.

"It is our coach, Bao Yin's, birthday. We have skated for him for 18 years and I wanted to give something to him with this performance, but maybe I thought about it too much and lost my concentration and made the mistake."

Two other Russian teams, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, and Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, were fourth and fifth, respectively.

Coughlin and Yankowskas skated a sensitive, controlled performance to "Ave Maria," the program Marina Zoueva choreographed as a tribute to Coughlin's late mother, Stacy.

Their only mistake was Yankowkas brief hand down on the landing of the throw triple Salchow.

"The long today was everything we were hoping it would be, kind of a farewell to this very emotional piece and a farewell to this chapter for us," Coughlin said.

"I had the utmost confidence going into this program and we didn't second guess one thing," Yankowskas said. "We were really into each other and it's so awesome to skate that way and not be worried about anything."

Evora and Ladwig had a few rough spots in their free, including Ladwig's fall on a triple toe and Evora's stumble on the landing of a throw triple Lutz. The U.S. silver medalists gained several Level 4 elements and landed a strong throw triple loop, but their 101.27 points was under their season best.

"I totally botched the triple toe takeoff," Ladwig said. "I put my toe in and thought I had it. Then I squeezed and the next thing I know, I'm going forward. I thought the rest of the program regrouped well."

"It is harder to get through worlds a second time," Evora said. "The first time, we had not competed against the field. This time, we were kind of expected to do well. We have to learn how to deal with that stress and how to deal every time we are out there."