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Pairs come tantalizingly close to perfection

Savchenko and Szolkowy, Volosozhar and Trankov in class of their own

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany pulled out the narrow victory.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany pulled out the narrow victory. (AFP)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/10/2011) - The world's top two pairs but on a brilliant display Saturday night at the 2011 Grand Prix Final, and there was not a fall -- or even a flaw -- in sight.

"I see competition for ladies and men, and we skate better," Aliona Savchenko said.

"Pair skating is a more powerful type of figure skating, for sure," Maxim Trankov opined. "We have more power than single skaters because we have our girls, and our girls have the boys, and we can skate together."

Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, and Tatiana Volosozhar and Trankov gave the judges very little to choose from, hitting every jump, twist, lift and throw in their programs while performing with passion and intensity.

In the end, Germany's three-time world champions won the free skate by 1.93 points, edging their Russian rivals by just 0.18.

"Of course it feels good to win," Szolkowy said. "It is the third time we have won the Grand Prix Final, but it has never been so close like today."

Performing to the soundtrack from Pina, a documentary about the late modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch, Savchenko and Szolkowy seemed to do everything in their packed program -- including a triple toe-triple toe sequence, complicated lifts with unusual entries and exits, and a throw triple Salchow in the closing seconds -- to the maximum. Their intense coach, Ingo Steuer, paced by the boards and thrust his fists in the air when Savchenko landed the final throw.

Pina earned 142.44 points, a new season's best, and the Germans ended with 212.26, just making up for a 1.75-point deficit after the short.

The Quebec City crowd booed the result, preferring the Russian's more dramatic free to Black Swan, which included a triple twist a shade higher and more exciting than that of the Germans as well as a throw triple loop that sailed across the ice.

"Today it was very difficult to skate, because we were the leaders after the short and we have some pressure," Trankov said.

"It was a very hard fight the whole program, because we have some special [injuries]. We are happy we have finished this competition, and it was a good result, and we did season's best in the short and free. We love to have this audience reaction after our scores; it means they love the program."

Trankov and Volosozhar went on to describe their injuries -- his groin, her aching leg muscles -- and said they will skip the upcoming Russian championships in order to rest and recuperate.

The Germans, too, plan to miss their nationals in favor of some rest, but the two teams will meet again at the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships in late January.

"I hope next time we will have more power and win our next competition," Trankov said. "We know what we have to do for this, and I think in the future we will be more lucky."

Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov had a fine outing to Debussy's "Clair de Lune" but finished well back with 187.77 points. Three-time world silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, third after the short, lost their medal chances when they faltered on the final lift in their program, dropping the element to Level 1. Hao -- who skipped last season with wrist and shoulder troubles -- appeared to be injured, as he grasped his shoulder and doubled over in pain while leaving the ice.