Five things to watch for at worlds: Powerful pairs

Will Savchenko and Szolkowy win No. 5? How will Castelli and Shnapir fare in their worlds debut?

Four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy actually go into next week's competition as the underdogs.
Four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy actually go into next week's competition as the underdogs. (Getty Images)


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By Amy Rosewater, special to
(03/08/2013) - As the start of the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships fast approaches, runs down some of the storylines we'll be following in London, Ontario. Here, we break down the pairs event.

Russia, once dominant in pairs skating, has not claimed a world title since 2005, when Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won their second world championship. Since then, the sport has been dominated by the Chinese and Germans. Qing Pang and Jian Tong and the retired team of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao have combined for three world titles, and Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy have won four of the last five world championships. There could be a changing of the guard this year in London.

1. Will Savchenko and Szolkowy claim a fifth world crown?

When the Germans have competed this season, they have been tough to beat. Their innovative style, coupled with technical strength (their program includes a throw triple flip), has kept them at or near the top for the last few years. But they didn't make the Grand Prix Final, a result of their skipping their second Grand Prix assignment after she came down with a sinus infection, and then were runners-up to Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov for the European title.

2. In a sport once defined by the Soviet Union/Russia, can a Russian team emerge from these world championships and possibly win the gold medal in Sochi next winter?

The Russians were devastated after the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where no pairs team from Mother Russia was on the Olympic podium for the first time since 1960. They have made a concerted effort for that not to happen again come the next Winter Games less than a year from now in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. Volosozhar and Trankov are the best Russia has to offer, and they beat the Germans at Europeans.

3. Can Pang and Tong regain their top-of-the-world status?

The Chinese pair won the world title in 2006 and in 2010 but was third and fourth the last two seasons. The couple, which has been skating together since 1993, earned the Olympic silver medal in 2010. They can compete with the other teams, but only if they commit very few errors.

4. Can two Canadian teams finish among the top five with worlds being held on Canadian soil?

This is very possible, as both Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and their teammates, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, both qualified for the Grand Prix Final, and both teams have posted scores among the best in the world this season. With the home crowd expected to be in both of their corners, these two teams will put a lot of pressure on the rest of the field.

5. What can Americans hope for from newly crowned national champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir?

This team wasn't even on the international map a year ago, and they nearly split up after finishing fifth at nationals in 2012, but the Boston-based duo rededicated themselves and won the U.S. title last month in Omaha, Neb. They lack polish and, at times, suffer technical lapses in the middle of their routines, but their throws are huge. A top-10 finish could be in reach.