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Russian pair sends shock waves with worlds rout

Savchenko, Szolkowy sneak ahead for silver; Duhamel, Radford thrilled with bronze

Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won the pairs contest by 20.15 total points.
Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won the pairs contest by 20.15 total points. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(03/15/2013) - The Russians might not say it out loud, but their actions on the ice spoke volumes.

Their message to the rest of the world's pairs teams: You have 11 months to catch up.

Skating absolutely brilliantly, with a program featuring by far the best triple twist of the day, huge throws and elegance mixed in, Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov scored a whopping 225.71 points at the 2013 World Championships -- 20.15 higher than the four-time world champions from Germany and 7.86 more than the world record set by the Germans two years ago.

And they achieved this even with Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy tossing in a throw triple Axel as the final element of their program.

Virtually everything about the Russian duo's routine was seamless. Just one minor flaw occurred, when Trankov tripped and fell following Volosozhar's landing on a throw, but it wasn't on an element and it didn't disrupt the rest of the program.

Trankov dismissed the idea that the massive points differential means much going into the Olympic season. But at the same time, any thought that Russia will not put a team back on the pairs podium in Sochi, Russia, should also be dismissed. The Winter Games in Vancouver marked the first time since 1960 that Russia had not earned a medal in the pairs event.

"For sure, it is very important to win the year before the Olympic Games, but we're very happy to skate good," Trankov said.

The Russians dominated the event, winning the short program with a season's-best score and then following it up with the free skate, performed superbly to "Violin Muse" by Ikuko Kawai. They ended the season by winning all seven events they entered, including the European championships and the Grand Prix Final, which was held in Sochi.

The usually edgy and energetic Savchenko and Szolkowy appeared relatively unemotional during their performance to "Flamenco Bolero" for second place. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who were second after the short program, came away with the bronze --- the team's first medal at a world championships and a sweet memento for the Canadian champions to win in their home country.

"This bronze medal is golden for us," Duhamel said.

Radford added that the medal now sets the Canadians up for the possibility of reaching the Olympic podium in Sochi. The last time a Canadian pair earned an Olympic medal was in 2002 at the controversial Salt Lake City Winter Games when Jamie Salé and David Pelletier were awarded gold medals along with Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

Duhamel and Radford, skating to "Angel" by Philippe Rombi, were so energized by their performance that Duhamel fist-pumped in celebration before her entry into the ending element, a death spiral. The team, skating in its third season, finished seventh at worlds in 2011 and fifth in 2012.

"Last year, we were at the world championships and we said, next year, we were going to be on the podium," Duhamel said. "For a while, I think we were the only ones who believed it, but we did it, and I think that's the greatest feeling in the world."

Added Radford, "Success is the greatest revenge."

Placing fourth was another Canadian team: Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. Although they missed the podium, it was quite a feat for a team that failed to qualify for the world championships a year ago.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us," Moscovitch said. "It was very special."

China's Qing Pang and Jian Tong, who had won world crowns in 2006 and 2010, placed fifth, marking their worst finish at the world championships since 2008, when they also finished fifth.

The big scare of the event came from the Russian team of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, who were fourth after the short program but suffered a scary crash into the boards late in their free skate to tumble down to sixth. While carrying Kavaguti in a lift, Smirnov caught an edge and smashed into the boards. Miraculously, he was able to bring her down safely, but the damage to the program had been done.

"Already, when we did the first jump, I was too close to the boards and it bothered me," Smirnov said. "Then, we skated so well, and I was gathering speed to go into that last lift, and there was just not enough room on the ice. It is really a shame; we had practiced that lift here several times on that rink and it went well."

For everyone else, it caused health issues.

"I think we were having a heart attack watching the Russians," Duhamel said.

The two American teams, both making their world championships debuts, finished ninth and 13th, good enough to keep two spots for the United States for the Sochi Winter Games. The big surprise was that Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, skating together just 11 months and coming to London, Ontario, as the initial alternates, did as well as they did in ninth.

Even their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, laughed when asked if she ever expected this team to come so far so fast.

Scimeca and Knierim had a roller-coaster season to say the least. After becoming a skating pair less than a year ago, the two managed to compete in a Grand Prix event (NHK Trophy) and finished fourth. They went on to win the silver medal at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and were assigned to the 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, but during a practice there, Scimeca badly injured her foot, forcing them to withdraw.

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, the 2012 U.S. pairs champions, decided not to compete at worlds since he is recovering from hip surgery, and that opened the door for Scimeca and Knierim to compete in London.

If told at the beginning of the season that she would have been coaching Scimeca and Knierim at worlds, Sappenfield said, "I would've not believed you."

"You know Chris and Alexa, they're both obviously very skilled skaters individually," Sappenfield said. "You never know when you put a team together how quickly or how slow or what the learning curve is going to be, but by the summer, we kind of knew they were going to be pretty good this year. And so many things kept happening for them."

Although Scimeca stepped out of a throw triple flip, their program, performed to Life is Beautiful, was smooth and scored high levels for difficulty.

The U.S. champion team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir was the first to take the ice in the free skate, and their marks might have suffered a bit from that draw. Castelli made a relatively minor mistake, missing the back end of a double Axel-double toe combination, but there was no major mishap in the routine. Still, their free skate score of 108.32 was well below the season's best 117.04 they scored last month at Four Continents.

. "I'm a little confused by them," Castelli said of the scores.

Even so, Castelli and Shanpir were thrilled to be competing at worlds. After all, the couple, which has been together for seven years, nearly quit at the end of last season because of too much infighting.

For both U.S. teams, it was important to be in London to get the experience of being in the company of such elite pairs talent.

Sappenfield had her team sit in the stands to watch the final four teams perform.

And what they saw showed every team around the world how far they have to go between now and Sochi.