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Take five! Germans capture worlds in swan song

Stolbova, Klimov grab silver in worlds debut; Americans finish 11th, 14th
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Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who walked away with bronze at the Olympics, closed out their illustrious careers in the highest fashion, capturing their fifth world pairs title behind 224.88 total points. -Getty Images

After their disappointing bronze medal in Sochi, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy capped their career with one final triumph, winning their fifth world title Thursday in Saitama.

Early this season, when the ultra-modern Germans announced they would skate to Peter Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, Savchenko said, "Finally, I want to be a ballerina." No other pair showed their perfect unison, and they gained the highest program components scores of the event, averaging 9.3.

They opened with a huge triple throw flip, followed by a good sequence of two triple toe loops. The other elements, including three difficult lifts, were excellent as well. For six of their elements, they got at least one +3 grade of execution (GOE) from the judges. Their only mistake came when both singled planned double Axels.

Early this week, the pair's coach, Ingo Steuer, announced his team would not try a throw triple Axel at the end of the free. Here, they did an excellent triple throw Salchow, which has always been a safe element for them. They won the free skate and ended with 224.88 points, almost nine more than their closest challengers.

"It was definitely a good program, maybe even very good, except the tiny flaw with the double Axel," Szolkowy said with a laugh. "It is great to be at this competition and skate in front of all these fantastic spectators here in Japan. It is hard work to stay on top for so many years."

"I felt like I was skating in an exhibition gala," Savchenko said.        

Szolkowy, 34, definitely does not want to compete any more, but the 30-year-old Savchenko told reporters, "I feel young enough to continue."

Neither Savchenko nor Steuer has revealed who Savchenko's new partner might be; there doesnt appear to be anyone in Germany who is good enough for her. If she chooses somebody from another country, they would have to sit out a season before the ISU would allow them to compete internationally, unless the new partner has not competed internationally this season.

Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, winners of the silver medal in Sochi, continued their excellent results, winning silver at their very first world championships. Three of the elements in their Addams Family free skate were not perfectly clean, but everything else was very good, and they ended with 215.92 points. 

"We did everything that we can do, and I think it is great that we skated that way," Stolbova said. "We knew it won't be easy to win, and we came here with the goal to skate clean."      

Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who train in Montreal, won their second consecutive world bronze medal. Their elements were mostly good; Duhamel only fell on the triple Salchow. Their 210.84 points were a season's best.

"We are very happy with our skate," Radford said. "We had a little mistake, but we really kept it together, fought really hard and managed to finish the program strongly.

"We admire Aliona and Robin a lot for what they have done for pair skating. I trained with her in a group with my former partner (Rachel Kirkland) for two years."

"But next year, when [Savchenko and Szolkowy] don't skate any more, we want a medal of a different color," Duhamel added.

The second Canadian pair, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, ended up fourth, their same placement as last season, with 205.52 points. Their free skate included a sequence of two triple toe loops and a triple Salchow.

Three pairs successfully performed a quad twist. Two of them were Chinese: Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, who placed fifth with 194.83 points, and Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who were sixth with 192.10 points. The other was new Russian pair Julia Antipova and Nodari Maisuradze, who finished a respectable eighth competing as alternates for Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir remained in the 11th position from the short program and earned 170.90 points. The first half of their program was marred with errors: The triple twist was not clean, Shnapir doubled two jumps, and Castelli fell on the throw quad Salchow. The second half of their program was better, with very good lifts and an excellent triple throw Salchow.

"[This season has] been a roller coaster ride; we always seem to have exciting rides every season," he said. "These last two years we've really seemed to put it together. We started off shaky at the beginning of our season, then built momentum and trained hard through the fall and early winter."

"We showed up at nationals ready to go and put out two of our strongest performances, and then repeated with four more really great ones at the Olympics," he said. "All in all, we've had a good season, and with this competition aside, overall, it was a huge success."

U.S. silver medalists Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay ended up in 14th place with 151.78 points, which means the U.S. will keep two spots in pairs for next year.

The beginning of their free skate was very good, as they performed three clean elements: triple twist, side-by-side triple toe loops and a throw triple Lutz. Later, however, Bartholomay singled an Axel, and he was unable to lift her for the reverse lasso lift.

On the whole, though, the pair was overjoyed with its recent accomplishments.

"It's been a great season," Zhang said. "We had a lot of firsts: first Grand Prix Series, first worlds, first Olympics. We're proud to say that we have trained through it all. It's going to be a good experience for next year."