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Russia ready to reclaim spot atop pairs mountain

World champs Volosozhar, Trankov lead trio of competitive pairs teams
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An ecstatic Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov relish their outstanding performance in the Olympic team event pairs short program. -Getty Images

Russia is already on a roll at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are determined to keep it that way.

The reigning world pairs skating champions already won a gold medal in the team competition and now have a shot at becoming the first pairs skaters to win two gold medals in the same Olympic Winter Games.

The Olympic pairs event begins Tuesday, and Russians -- especially the fans who attended the evening practice Monday and cheered heartily for the home skaters -- are hoping it will be the start of a new streak.

From 1964 through 2006, Russia (including its years of Olympic competition as the Soviet Union and Unified Team) had won the gold medal in the pairs competition, but that streak stopped abruptly in Vancouver when Russia not only fell off the top spot but off the entre pairs medal podium. Russia regrouped, and by the 2013 World Championships, Volosozhar and Trankov brought Russia back to the top of the pairs standings with a gold medal in London, Ontario.

Not only are they in contention for a medal, but there are two other Russian pairs teams that could fit into the medal mix here on Russian soil: Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, and Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov. Stolbova and Klimov were second at the European championships and Bazarova and Larionov were third.

Volosozhar and Trankov apologized but declined interviews after practice Monday evening, saying the Russian federation was not allowing them to do interviews until after the competition. They have been asked about the possibility of winning gold here in Sochi numerous times throughout the season and have made it clear that they want to restore Russia's top position in pairs.

"It is our dream to get the gold medal back," Trankov said at Skate America. "The last Russian Olympic champions were named Tatiana [Totmianina] and Maxim [Marinin], so maybe one more will be Tatiana and Maxim, too."

Volosozhar and Trankov competed in the short program in the team event, winning that portion, and then rested during the free skate. In their place, Stolbova and Klimov topped the pairs free skate.

A team gold medal is one thing, but it is the gold medal in the pairs competition ahead that Volosozhar and Trankov are really after. They could become the first pairs team to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil since 1936 when Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier did so in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

One team that could derail the Russians' path to gold is the German pair of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who did not skate in the team competition. The four-time world champions took the bronze medal in Vancouver. They withdrew from Europeans, as Savchenko had an infection.

The Americans in the event are two-time U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who helped lead the United States to a bronze medal in the team competition, and Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, who captured the silver medal last month at the U.S. championships. 

ICE CHIPS -- Italy's Stefania Berton has apparently recovered from a hip injury and skated in both practices Monday. "I was never really injured," she said. "I just had a bad fall in practice, and it was in the exact same spot I fell on it in [the team] competition. So, I was kind of sore already. It was like a bruise on a bruise. Fortunately, during the competition, I couldn't feel it at all, but as soon as we bowed, I was like, 'Oh, oh, something is bothering me.' I was helped a lot from my federation and a little bit from the Russians, too. I feel good. I got massage therapy as well." Her coach, Franca Bianconi, told icenetwork.com before the evening practice Monday that Berton was "totally fine. She will skate, no problem at all."

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