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Savchenko, Szolkowy out to erase 2010 letdown

Pair putting throw triple Axel in both programs, Savchenko says

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are still haunted by the memories of their disappointing bronze-medal finish in Vancouver.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are still haunted by the memories of their disappointing bronze-medal finish in Vancouver. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany and Lynn Rutherford, special to Icenetwork.com
(08/02/2013) - Winning an Olympic medal of any color is often the high point in an athlete's career. For Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, it was a bitter disappointment.

"The day after winning only a bronze medal in Vancouver in 2010, we sat together and decided we want to win a gold medal at the 2014 Games -- nothing less," Savchenko, 29, said.

For a season or two after Vancouver, the Germans looked on track to gain the long-sought prize. But last season, the four-time world pairs champions settled for second place behind Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. They're still shooting for gold in Sochi, but defeating their younger rivals on Russian soil calls for a new weapon, as well as a new approach.

"We plan to include a throw triple Axel in both programs, because we have prepared this element for two years now and tried it several times in competition," Savchenko said.

The Germans put the risky move, with its base value of 8.25 points, at the very end of their free skate at the 2013 World Championships in London, Ontario. Although the landing wasn't perfect, it gained 7.39 points and helped fend off a challenge from Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

The pair is also taking a fresh look at their choreography. While training their new programs in two rinks in Toronto in July, their coach, Ingo Steuer, opened their close-knit circle to include renowned Canadian choreographer David Wilson.

Usually, Steuer handles his team's choreography himself.

"I have known David for a long time and have been preparing for this cooperation with him since last year, or even before," Steuer said at the end of his Toronto stay. "The week here was a successful enrichment in my career as a coach, because the chemistry between the two of us worked perfectly. This is rare, but we fit together like a puzzle."

Despite his reputation for taking full control, Steuer welcomed Wilson's input on more than choreography.

"[David] mainly worked with Aliona and Robin on the skating skills, edges and poses, because last season we left a few components points on the table in those areas, compared to our rivals," Steuer said.

"David has a lot of experience, especially in this area," Steuer continued. "Aliona and Robin now are much better component-wise again, and certainly better than the Russians."

For their short program, the Germans have chosen music from composer and violinist André Rieu, composed specially for them.

"Choosing music was a long process; I had the choice of about 20 pieces of music, but none of them really fit 100 percent," Steuer said. "Something was arranged, but when we played it in the rink, we did not like it. I am a perfectionist and am happy only if something is perfect.

"So I contacted André Rieu, who we had collaborated with a few times in the past," he continued. "He composed and arranged a new piece of music especially for us. After coming back from our journey to Asia in June, we decided to take it, because all three of us like it. Its name is 'When Winter Comes,' and it is very lyrical, but also has a strong sound in a big ice rink."

"As this music is new, nobody in the competition will have the same piece," Savchenko said.

The pair will announce their free skate music at the end of the month.

"The free is ready, but it is our 'baby' which we want to bring to life a bit later," Steuer said. "We have heard the rumor that our main rivals, Tatiana and Maxim, will skate to Jesus Christ Superstar. This is certainly not our style, and I do not like this music. We are going in a completely different direction."

This, explained Steuer, is by design.

"During our journey in Asia (to do shows), I had asked my former pupil, Tatiana [Volosozhar], what direction the Russians' music was taking," he said. "Nobody wants the two best pairs in the world to skate to the same music."

After returning from Toronto, Savchenko and Szolkowy plan to train a week in Berlin and then return to Chemnitz. They will unveil their new free skate at a media day in Berlin in late August, when all top German skaters show their new programs to the public.

With their home rink in Chemnitz closed at times, Savchenko and Szolkowy have traveled for much of the late spring and summer.

"In May, we were in Florida, practicing at the rink where John Zimmerman and his wife (Silvia Fontana) work," Steuer said. "We trained mainly our elements; for example, new lifts and a different pair spin, which the rules require this season. We also worked on choreography for new show programs."

"I worked a bit with John's students Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, the world junior champions," he continued. "It was very interesting for me to work with such a young team again."

In June, the German trio was in Asia for about four weeks, doing shows.

"We were in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and China," Savchenko said. "This was quite exhausting because we had to travel a lot and were otherwise on the ice from morning to night, training the choreography for many group numbers."

In an interesting twist, the top two pairs will each compete on their rivals' turf this fall. Volosozhar and Trankov will take part in the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf in September. The Germans' first competition is Cup of China, followed by the Rostelecom Cup. The first time they could square off face to face is the Grand Prix Final in Japan in December.

With Peter Liebers and ice dancers Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi moving up the ranks, Germany may qualify for the new Olympic team event. If it does, it will compete without its stars.

"We have already told the federation that we are not going to take part in the team event in Sochi," Steuer said. "It is too close to our own competition. The gold medal in our individual event is more important to us. It is why we have been working so hard since 2010."