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Volosozhar, Trankov think history in short triumph

Duhamel, Radford surprise with second-place finish at home; Savchenko, Szolkowy take third

Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov carry a 2.23-point lead into the free skate.
Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov carry a 2.23-point lead into the free skate. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(03/13/2013) - With less than a year to go until the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, a Russian pair showed the host country might be ready to put a team back on top of the pairs standings.

Beginning in 1964 and running through 2006, a team from Russia (or the former Soviet Union) had won a gold medal in the Olympic pairs competition every year. Then came Vancouver, when the top Russian pairs team finished a disappointing fourth.

Yet, at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, a Russian pair finds itself in the lead after the short program: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

That the team is in first place is no surprise, since it won every event it entered this season, including the Grand Prix Final and the European championships. A Russian team has not won the world title since Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin struck gold in 2005 when worlds were held in Moscow.

"Our goal is to give back the gold for Russia," Trankov said.

When asked about any added pressure following a medal shutout in Vancouver, Trankov said, "We had the gold medal for a long time in history and only once we lost it. We just want to make new history."

Volosozhar and Trankov lead the way after scoring a season's best 75.84 points. Close behind, however, are Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford with 73.61 points and four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany with 73.47 points. Another Russian pair, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (the fourth-place finishers in Vancouver), are fourth here with 69.98 points, and Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, skating at worlds after failing to qualify for the event a year ago, are fifth (69.25).

Perhaps one of the biggest falls came from China's two-time world champions, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, who missed the triple toes and are in sixth place with 63.95 points --- 11.89 points out of first place.

Another Russian team, Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, missed their opening triple toe and are in seventh. They finished second at the Grand Prix Final, which was held in Sochi in December.

One big surprise came from the Americans.

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, the alternates to the U.S. team, wound up finishing the highest of the two U.S. teams. They skated a relatively smooth program to place 12th (55.73 points), followed by U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir in 13th (55.68). The teams need to combine for placements totaling 28 to earn two spots for the Winter Games in Sochi. Both teams were making their worlds debut.

It is stunning that Scimeca and Knierim are even there. For starters, they have only been together for 11 months. They placed second at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and were named alternates to the world team. Then, they went to compete at the 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Japan and Scimeca injured her foot in practice. The injury forced them to withdraw.

Yet, the duo somehow managed to get to London and get through the short program.

"Our training has been smart," said Scimeca, who has been taking anti-inflammatories to treat her right foot.

They also have been working on their spins, taking lessons specifically to improve them with Janet Champion leading up to these championships.

As for Castelli and Shnapir, they came to worlds as rookies with a nothing-to-lose attitude. Although Shnapir fell on the side-by-side triple Salchow, they recovered with a huge throw triple Salchow in which Castelli seemed to hang in the air for a second after finishing her rotations.

"I'm a daredevil," she said.

The Canadians electrified the arena with two of the strongest teams in the field, and the host country is hoping to put a team onto the medal podium for the first time since 2008. The crowd in the Budweiser Gardens staunchly supported the home teams and waved their Canadian flags wildly after the teams' performances.

To prepare for the loud crowds, Duhamel said she tried to pretend she was skating at a Canadian nationals instead of worlds. She said it helped to be on familiar territory and even recognized the volunteer who opened the door to the ice; it was a woman who had been at Canadian competitions for about a decade.

"I joked with her when we took the ice and said, 'Here we go again.'" Duhamel said.

Duhamel also saw history repeat itself, as she and Radford landed side-by-side triple Lutzes in their program. They did that jump in the same corner of the same arena where Duhamel and her former partner performed that jump when Canadian nationals were held in London in 2005.

"It was really exciting to land the triple Lutz," Duhamel said. "To see the look on everyone's face in the corner was amazing."