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Newly attired Germans win easily at NRW Trophy

Savchenko, Szolkowy turn attention to face-off with Russians at Europeans

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy have replaced the free skate costumes they wore at Skate Canada with a less gaudy ensemble.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy have replaced the free skate costumes they wore at Skate Canada with a less gaudy ensemble. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(12/09/2012) - Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who lost the chance to compete at the Grand Prix Final when they withdrew from their second Grand Prix assignment, can take some satisfaction from a solid if imperfect free skate at the NRW Trophy, which they won by a wide margin over Italians Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek.

On Saturday evening in Dortmund, the four-time world champions took the ice at a small, 250-seat rink, largely emptied of South Korean fans who had earlier watched their heroine Yu-Na Kim.

Those who left missed Savchenko and Szolkowy's commanding free to a modern, flamenco-infused version of Ravel's "Bolero." All the big pairs elements -- a throw triple flip, triple twist and ending throw triple Salchow -- were excellent, gaining many +2s and, for the throw triple flip, four +3s from the judges for grades of execution. The three lifts and side-by-side spins were also outstanding.

The only flaws came on the side-by-side jumps. Savchenko stepped out of the triple toe loop and doubled the Salchow, while her partner performed a triple. This did not lower their program components scores, which ranged up to 9.5, and they won the title with 207.52 points.

The team's coach, Ingo Steuer, is not concerned about Savchenko's jumping mistakes.

"Aliona is still not completely healthy [from a severe cold, sinus infection and other ailments], and, therefore, I do not blame her for these mistakes," he said. "It was nevertheless a very good decision to come to Dortmund. They performed a very good short program and a good long one. It was clearly better than at Skate Canada -- the unison of arms and legs and heads was better -- and there was more flow on the ice."

Certainly, it was a better technical performance than the Germans' biggest rivals, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, mustered in the free skate at the Grand Prix Final in Sochi. There, Trankov fell on a triple toe and then collapsed while entering a throw triple Salchow. Nevertheless, the Russians -- who have placed second to the Germans the last two seasons at worlds -- were awarded high enough marks to win.

At Skate Canada, some members of the Canadian press corps questioned whether the Germans' tight-fitting unitards, created with artists in their training town of Chemnitz, were appropriate for competition, in light of the ISU's edict forbidding male skaters to wear tights.

The Germans may have taken the critiques to heart; they unveiled new free skate outfits in Dortmund, just as they did for the short program. Both are now attired in black trousers.

"You can now see the choreography and body lines much better," Steuer said. "It was the right decision to change the costumes."

"It was good to present our programs once more to an international jury and to skate them in our new costumes," Szolkowy said.

With "Tightgate" resolved, Steuer's biggest concern is Savchenko's health.

"We still do not know exactly what the main illness was; therefore, the most important thing for us is to get Aliona finally healthy," the coach said. "Everything else will then be easy. Therefore, we will go home, close the rink [to media] and train carefully. We have only a few shows around Christmas." (The team does not plan to compete at German nationals.)

"Our next competition will be Europeans in six weeks, so we have time to make some minor adjustments in our programs," Savchenko said. "Our programs are growing from week to week, and we always make small changes."

Berton and Hotarek, who train in Milan and in Detroit under Jason Dungjen, won the silver medal with 178.64 points. They started their free with a jump combination of one triple and two double toe loops, and then on their next jumps, Berton doubled the Salchow while Hotarek did a triple. The rest of their Spanish-style program was clean, but not outstanding, and their program components averaged 7.2.

The Italians have improved from competition to competition this season, and their goal is a bronze medal at the 2013 European Championships, to be held in Zagreb in January.

Skating to the Pearl Harbor soundtrack, Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès of France won the bronze medal with 171.03 points. They have made remarkable progress this season, but in Dortmund they were not quite as good as at their previous competitions, which included a fourth-place showing at Skate America. James missed the triple toe loop and stumbled on the landings of both of their throw triples. This was a test just one week before French nationals, which will take place in Strasbourg.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia ended up in fourth place with 150.41 points after a free skate with several step-outs and shaky landings. They have the same names as some famous Russian coaches but are not related to Tatiana Tarasova, Nikoli Morozov or Stanislav Morozov (who is Ukrainian).