Volosozhar, Trankov vault into pairs lead in Sochi
Russian favorites jump ahead by 3.32 points; Bazarova, Larionov pull into second
|Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov performed well enough to win the short, despite feeling the pressure of being favorites. (Getty Images)|
Skating with impressive speed and sexy authority, Russia's world silver medalists had their finest program of the season, highlighted by a beautifully landed throw triple loop and dynamic closing steps. They earned 73.46 points and take a 3.32-point lead into Saturday's free skate.
In the absence of four-time German world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who were forced to withdraw from their second Grand Prix event due to Savchenko's severe cold and sinus illness, Volosozhar and Trankov are overwhelming favorites to win their first Grand Prix title.
They seemed to perform with wings on their skates, in sharp contrast to their tentative short earlier this season at Skate America, where Trankov complained of the time difference and practice schedule. But even while competing on home turf, he was entirely happy; this time around, his grievances revolved around the judging and calling of the event.
"We think we did a good job, skating a clean program, and we thought we deserved better marks for our performance," he said.
"Somehow, we lost levels on the death spiral (Level 1) and the lift (Level 3). It made us unhappy. We also felt some pressure on us being the favorites and competing on home ice; everybody was expecting us to win.
"We want to understand what we need to work on," he continued. "We know we didn't do Level 4, but we think we did enough to get Level 3 [on the death spiral]. We just don't know why [we were marked down] and what we have to do. Maybe our two coaches (Nina Mozer and Stanislav Morozov) will find out what went wrong."
Skating to "Liebestraum," European silver medalists Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov of Russia showed crisp, clean elements, including opening triple toes, a throw triple loop and the best triple twist of the event, to take second with 70.14 points.
The elegant Bazarova hit superb positions in the Level 4 lift, although -- like Volosozhar and Trankov -- the team could only achieve a Level 1 in their closing death spiral.
"We were able to do what we had planned, to show our choreography, jumps and other elements, so we're quite happy with today's performance and will now prepare ourselves for tomorrow," Larionov said. "We had planned to do Level 3 [on the death spiral], but today we just were a bit late with the music; that's why [we were marked down], I think."
Chinese veterans Qing Pang and Jian Tong, who won a silver medal behind countrymen Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao at the 2010 Olympics, sit third after a stylish, but imperfect, short to the Paso Doble from Strictly Ballroom.
The 33-year-old Tong -- who has admitted his jumping is hobbled by knee injuries -- failed to fully complete an intended triple toe, costing the team big on technical points. Nevertheless, judges tipped their hats to the two-time world champions with a high program components score (32.68), and they earned 64.74 overall.
"We're happy to get an impression here of the Olympic rink, and we try to move forward step by step," Pang said.
Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford showed the most difficult elements of the event, including side-by-side triple Lutzes and a throw triple Lutz, as well as a high triple twist and challenging lift with a change of direction. Although their only noticeable error was Duhamel's hand briefly touching down on the ice on the triple Lutz, the judges put them fourth with 64.20 points.
"We're going to bring it tomorrow," Duhamel said in a tweet.
Another Canadian pair, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, are fifth with 60.95 points.
Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov placed sixth after Kavaguti fell on the landing of a throw triple loop. They take 58.02 points into Saturday's free skate.