Savchenko, Szolkowy win short over Pang, Tong

German pair eyeing fourth career world title; Americans seventh, 10th

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy spun their way to a first-place finish in the short.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy spun their way to a first-place finish in the short. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(03/28/2012) - Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won the short program at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships with 68.63 points.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China, who are coming back after a year off due to injury, are 1.53 points behind. The surprise third-place finishers are Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan. Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who were one of the strong favorites for the gold medal, fell to eighth place.

The two American pairs, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, and Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, delivered two solid performances and are sitting in seventh and 10th place, respectively.

Savchenko and Szolkowy displayed their great class and mastery through their emotional Angels and Demons program. They opened with their long dreamt-of throw triple Axel, which she slightly two-footed.

Then it was Szolkowy's turn to over-rotate their side-by-side triple toe loops. Their step sequences, combination spin and lift were nonetheless of unsurpassed richness, as if they were a combination of technical elements by themselves.

For once, they were smiling when they left the ice.

"Our performance was not perfect but good. We are particularly happy about the throw triple Axel, which was our best so far." Szolkowy said.

They did not really need that triple Axel to take the lead, but the Germans have been known for their endless striving for perfection.

"We never look for what the other skaters do before deciding what we will do," Szolkowy said. "For us, our triple Axel is just an element, as any other."

Pang and Tong, the 2006 and 2010 world champions from China, were the last to take the ice. They skated to Frédéric Chopin's "Nocturne in C sharp minor," a program they crafted with Lori Nichol last summer. They had not been able to perform it since, though, after their injuries.

"We feel better," Tong said, "But we've been back to practice for only three months."

Their opening triple toes were downgraded, as he had some difficulty stabilizing the landing of his. All their other elements were superlative and so easy looking: They got the highest components mark of the competition (33.13 points).

The program emphasized Pang and Tong's balletic elegance and looked like an ode to togetherness. The two seem to always skate, live, think and breathe together. In a dozen years, they may still be walking the same step in the streets without even noticing it!

"What is important for us," Tong concluded, "Is that we skate the best performance. After two world titles, we want to show judges and fellow skaters that we are back!"

Takahashi and Tran put themselves into the spotlight today. Many were thinking that the Japanese would fare well in these championships. In fact, they became a sensation after their program skated to John Lennon's "Imagine."

Trained in Montréal with Bruno Marcotte and Richard Gauthier, they skated with unison and poise to gather 65.37 points and beat their season's best.

"We are so happy to have beaten our season best!" Takahashi said.

Volosozhar and Trankov had scheduled a different scenario for their short program. Their forward inside death spiral turned out as a nightmare for them as well as for the audience, who gasped all at once -- such a fall was just not possible for such champions.

Trankov fell on his bottom and Volosozhar followed him.

"Falling on a jump, OK, that happens to everybody," Trankov said. "But falling on a death spiral is just impossible."

Trankov kept ruminating his sadness and anger for a long while.

"We had a real chance for the gold medal, and now it's gone."

The beautiful music they skated to, Evanescence's "Bring Me Back to Life," missed its point today, as they scored an overall 60.48 to finish a distant eighth.

Trankov then concluded that "Maybe it was a bad day for the Russian team?" but that he and Volozhar definitely needed to show their very best on Friday.

Rather amazingly, each Russian team experienced a more or less severe fall, which strongly impacted the rankings.

The other two Russian pairs preceding Volosozhar and Trankov on the ice also made uncharacteristic falls. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov started their program with their usual amplitude, but he collapsed at the exit of their lift, in the corner of the rink.

A while after, Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov had a nearly flawless program (Larionov did not manage to land his triple loop) until the very last second of their program: As they were taking their final position, he tumbled and fell. Their fall, however, did not cost them a deduction, and the team ended with 65.02 points and in fourth place.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada offered a beautiful rendition of "Concerto de Aranjuez" to the audience. They opted for a side-by-side triple Lutz, but Radford fell and Duhamel put a hand on the ice. They still got 3.90 points for it as well as Level 4 for their death spiral, spin, step sequence and lift.

They also offered one of the most interesting and meaningful programs of the afternoon, which was well supported by their unison and well-matched body lines. The duo scored 63.39 points to beat their season's best. They sit in fifth place before the free skate.

"We are close, and we do have a good relationship," Coughlin had announced at 2011 Skate America about his partnership with Denney. Less than a year after they joined forces, and for their first world championships together, Denney and Coughlin executed a beautiful East of Eden short program.

"It has been fun to build our own style as a pair," Coughlin said before the competition.

Their Lutz triple twist was the best of the field. Denney seemed to never come back to earth during her triple rotation.

"She is a flyer!" Coughlin joked.

"We have a good timing together. To be fully honest, it even seemed easy today, so it is quite encouraging for Friday!" Coughlin added.

Marley and Brubaker's Singin' in the Rain medley was an instant hit with the French crowd.

"We were already here last fall for the Coupe de Nice," Brubaker said, "And we were so excited when we learned we would be coming here again. It is such a reward for me to be back on the world team." (Brubaker was on the world team in 2009.)

Marley and Brubaker skated a faultless program, which included side-by-side triple toes, a triple twist and a throw triple flip. They got Level 4 for both their step sequence and lift, and 59.62 points.

"U.S. nationals are so much more nerve-wracking," Brubaker said. "Once you're at worlds, there is nothing to qualify for. You just have to skate your very best and enjoy. This is exactly what we want to do now: just go on and fight and perform the way we did today."