Savchenko, Szolkowy tackle throw triple Axel

Nicks takes steps back from coaching Marley, Brubaker

Three-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are looking to become just the second pairs team to land the throw triple Axel.
Three-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are looking to become just the second pairs team to land the throw triple Axel. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(10/21/2011) - No one can accuse Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of resting on their laurels. The veteran German pair, who won their third world title last season with a light-hearted romp to The Pink Panther, are stretching themselves in new artistic and athletic directions this season, starting with the throw triple Axel.

"It looks good," Szolkowy, 32, said of the element.

"We don't feel any pressure for this season. We have different goals; we [want to do] new elements, like the throw. We've had good preparation in practice, so now we'll try it."

His partner was equally philosophical, saying the team always seeks to bring its skating to a new level.

"We have different goals now; we're going a new way," Savchenko, 27, explained. "You can never say you are too old to try something.

It's important for us to show the elements we have prepared, and the triple Axel is planned, possibly in both programs. It's the next step to a new life."

Only two-time U.S. pairs champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin have landed the three-and-a-half revolution forward throw jump in competition, the last time coming at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

While the Germans won world titles in 2008 and 2009 as well as last season, they are still smarting over their disappointing 2009-10 campaign, including falling short of winning Olympic gold. (Savchenko and Szolkowy settled for bronze.)

They have vowed to continue through the 2014 Sochi Games. The throw triple Axel, with its hefty base value of 8.25 points, would give them a leg up on the competition.

"We just wanted to do something new," said Ingo Steuer, the team's authoritarian coach and choreographer. "Last season was very successful. We always ask, 'How can we be better than we were?' This is hard.

"We are preparing for the [2014] Olympics. The time to try new elements is now. There are two more years, so we have to start now -- otherwise, it will be too late."

At Steuer's behest, the skaters are also tackling a new style of choreography, inspired by German modern dance choreographer and ballet director Pina Bausch and set to the music of Pina, a 2011 documentary celebrating the late artist's most renowned works.

"It is different. I cannot say it is easier; I cannot say it is harder," Szolkowy said. "It is a new feeling. In sports, you are always training to be strong. Now someone is telling you, 'Just move your arm this way, just move your upper body this way.' Some people will like the program and some won't."

The Germans spent much of the offseason training in their hometown of Chemnitz, moving to Dresden when the Chemnitz rink closed during the summer. There, they worked with a dance choreographer at the Palucca University of Dance to perfect their movements to Pina.

"Our goal for this season is to show new things, in both elements and choreography," Steuer said. "We will see what the judges say."

Meno, Sand step up to guide Marley, Brubaker
Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, who were fourth at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, arrived in Ontario with new primary coaches, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.

Meno and Sand, who coach the pair at the Ice Palace at Alisa Viejo, Calif., took the reins from John Nicks, who guided the newly formed team last season. Brubaker skated to U.S. titles in 2008 and 2009 with former partner Keauna McLaughlin.

"Mr. Nicks has stepped back a little bit, which I can't quite believe I'm saying," Sand said. "We're guiding the ship, so to speak, but we still value his opinion, and we're fortunate to have him involved."

The venerable Nicks, 82, coached Meno and Sand, who married in 1995, to three U.S. titles and three world medals. He is also responsible for the second of only two U.S. world pairs titles, having trained 1979 champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner throughout their career.

"He actually first retired from coaching pairs at the press conference at the 1998 worlds," Meno said, citing the year she and her husband won the silver medal. "Rockne Brubaker sucked him back in for a while."

Nicks continues as primary coach of Ashley Wagner, who makes her season debut next month at Skate Canada.

Marley and Brubaker were slated to compete at the Nebelhorn Trophy in September but withdrew due to tendonitis in Marley's ankle.

"We could have pushed through and done Nebelhorn, but we didn't want to risk Skate America," Brubaker, 25, said. "We view this event, and Coupe de Nice (Oct. 26-30), as our most important going into nationals."

Marley, who placed fifth in juniors at the 2011 U.S. championships, has put her singles career aside to concentrate on pairs.

"For what [pairs] requires, it takes 100 percent," the 16-year-old said. "I feel, overall, our skating is coming together. There are actually storylines in our programs, not just elements."

"Sometimes people don't realize Mary Beth started pairs from scratch just 14 months ago," Sand said. "Obviously, Rockne has a lot of experience, a lot of success, but this is still a young team building and developing.

"I feel they can develop into not just one of the best in the U.S. but in the world over the next few seasons."