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Volosozhar, Trankov reclaim pairs throne for Russia

Stolbova, Klimov stun their way past Savchenko, Szolkowy into second
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With a performance that brought the crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace to a deafening roar, world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia blew away the competition by 18 points to win Olympic gold. The heavily favored pair, who were awarded 236.86 total points for their efforts, are overcome with emotion after their phenomenal free skate. -Getty Images

If anyone had doubts that Russia would re-emerge as a pairs skating powerhouse after its fall from the medal podium in Vancouver, they were erased in one evening here at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

Twice over.

Not only did Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov live up to massive expectations and become the first pairs team in 78 years to win Olympic gold on home ice, but a second and relatively unheralded team from Russia won the silver medal.

Wednesday night's gold medal also marked the second won by the Russians in figure skating, as they opened these Winter Games with a victory in the team competition.

"It was our obligation to bring gold back to Russia," said Trankov, who was so thrilled with his performance that he flung himself onto the ice about a second after their Jesus Christ Superstar program ended.

"The whole country was expecting that," he said of his emotion. "It was fitting that it happened 50 years after the first time gold was brought to Russia."

That Volosozhar and Trankov won the gold medal was impressive, but of little surprise. They entered these Olympics as the world champions, and even when they underperformed this season, they remained the class of the field. But the second-place finish by Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov -- and the brilliant way they performed their program -- was by far the biggest surprise of the event. Just two years ago, they were competing in the junior ranks.

A third Russian team of Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov finished sixth.

The German team of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy entered the Olympics as four-time world champions and were considered to be the biggest threat to Russia's Olympic revival in the event. But they suffered two falls and wound up with their second consecutive Olympic bronze medal.

It was an especially disappointing finish for the German team, which came here with high hopes. They skated last in the event -- a position they relished during the draw, but became difficult after both Russian teams skated so well.

The crowd in the Iceberg Skating Palace was boisterous and loyal to the Russian skaters, but once they recognized the opening notes to the Germans' music, which was from the classic Tchiakovsky ballet, The Nutcracker, the fans began to cheer.

Shortly after the Germans opened their program, though, Szolkowy fell on a triple toe loop and the crowd cheered again, this time knowing full well that the gold would end up in Russian hands. The cheers were not lost on the Germans. Savchenko and Szolkowy did not give up on their program, even attempting the throw triple Axel at the very end, but Savchenko fell, and so did their gold-medal hopes.

"For me, it was not the best to skate here," Szolkowy said. "We are in Russia and Russian skaters are on the ice. I would say it would be the same in Germany. At least they clapped after our performance.

"This is a really hard time for us right now," Szolkowy added. "Yesterday, we were in second place after the short program and we wanted to fight to win. Now, it feels like we lost a lot."

Shortly afterward, Savchenko said, "After all, we win the bronze medal, but it doesn't mean much."

The medals were not awarded to the skaters after the event, as they will be presented at a separate ceremony in the Olympic Park on Thursday evening. They were handed flowers, however -- by none other than former U.S. Figure Skating president and ISU Council member Phyllis Howard -- and they stood on the medal podium.

There, the Russians waved to their adoring fans while the Germans hugged in a long embrace.

The fans, including Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov -- the skaters who started the Russian pairs dynasty at the Olympics back in 1964 -- did not get to see the newest Russian gold medalists wear their medals around their necks or hear the Russian national anthem being played.

Trankov said he knew the rules that the medals would be distributed later but admitted "it's sad" that they were not presented in the arena.

Still, the feeling of Russian pride was running strong throughout the building. The fans did get to cheer the Russians' victory lap on the ice, and the four Russian medalists huddled together at one point and wrapped themselves in large Russian flags.

It was a huge moment for Trankov, who knew all too well how much his country needed to climb in these last four years. In Vancouver in 2010, he was skating with Maria Mukhortova and they finished eighth. Volosozhar also competed in those Olympics but represented Ukraine and placed ninth. Starting in the 2010-11 season, Volosozhar and Trankov began competing together, and with the help of their coaches, Nina Mozer and Stanislav Morozov, they became Olympic champions.

The performance that won them the gold medal was not a personal best, as they earned 236.86 points. They skated cautiously, and there were some mistakes. Volosozhar touched her hand down on the ice for the landing on the throw triple loop -- for which no deductions were taken -- and she had to fight for the landing on the throw triple Salchow. Overall, though, it was a solid performance for the Russians, who held nearly a five-point lead after the short program.

"I was crying because I felt so many emotions, nerves, concentration," Volosozhar said. "I'm still nervous and shaking, but I'm also so happy. We did really well today."

Stolbova and Klimov didn't have near the pressure and skated with the presence and energy of a far more established team. Skating to music from The Addams Family, they won over the crowd and brought many of the fans in the arena to their feet, including Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, who was in attendance and stood and clapped.

Stolbova and Klimov scored a total of 218.68 points, ultimately finishing nearly three points ahead of the Germans (215.78). After the short program, Klimov suggested the duo hoped to move up in the standings, but even he said the silver-medal placement was a bit of a long shot.

"Well, we did entertain that hope," Klimov said. "But I was saying that in joking mode."

The most veteran team in the field, Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China -- a team together for more than two decades, longer than some skaters in these Olympics have been alive -- finished fourth (209.88 points).

Canada's Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch placed fifth, while their compatriots and 2013 world bronze medalists, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, finished seventh. 

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