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Savchenko, Szolkowy win at Europeans

Germans easily defend their title

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were in a class by themselves at Europeans.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were in a class by themselves at Europeans. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2008) - The pairs were first to finish at the 2008 European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia. The whole level of the competition was quite disappointing, with the exception of the winners. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won the gold by nearly 33 points. The pupils of 1997 pairs world champion Ingo Steuer were a class above their fellow competitors, and they gained 202.39 points, a new personal record for them at international competitions.

In both programs, they started with a huge throw triple flip, which got positive GOE's from the judges. In the short, Savchenko stepped out of the triple toe loop, which rarely happens to her, but the rest of the program, set to the Bollywood soundtrack Asoka, was quite good. Their program components were very strong, and they excelled with an exuberant sparkle that was not evident among the other competitors.

During the free program, 12 of their 13 elements were correctly executed. Szolkowy did single the side-by-side Salchow, which was a planned triple. The main difference between the Germans and the other pairs was their superior style and choreography. One judge even gave them a 9.0 for the interpretation of their difficult free skate music ("L'oiseau" from the Cirque du Soleil). They excelled by incorporating many little steps between their elements, and the close relationship between the two skaters is what one strives for in pairs skating. All lifts, spins and the spiral step sequences earned level-fours. Even though they had a good skate, they were very self-critical afterwards, as usual: "It was not perfect, and we know what we have to work on," said Savchenko. "Maybe tomorrow we are really happy about our victory."

There was a fierce fight for the silver medal behind Savchenko and Szolkowy, with just 1.48 points separating second and fourth place after the short program.

Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia were second after the short program, and they held onto the silver medal. Their best elements were the Axel lasso lift and the triple throw in the program's closing moments. In general, they lacked a bit of elegance and sparkle. In their long program, the side-by-side jumps (triple Salchow and toe loop) were good, but they missed both throws.

Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, who beat Mukhortova and Trankov at Russian nationals, won the bronze medal in Zagreb. They were fourth after the short program with a wobbly triple twist, but an excellent Axel lasso lift. In the long, the pupils of famous coach Tamara Moskvina started with a quadruple throw. It was not 100 percent clean, but it was still rated as a quad by the specialists. This element is their specialty, as they were the second pair to ever complete it in an ISU competion when they did it in the Grand Prix Series last fall. (The first one was done by Americans Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent at the Trophee Eric Bompard in November 2007). But later in the free, Smirnov stepped out of the first triple toe loop, fell on the second, and singled the Axel which was planned as a double.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov from the Ukraine were third in the short program, but finished only fourth overall. Morozov is physically very strong, therefore their highlights were the triple twists in both programs, which no other European pair can perform in such a huge way. One judge gave a plus-three, eight others a plus-two in the short. They have improved in style since they started working with Nikolai Morozov (not related to the skater) in Hackensack, N.J., on style and choreography. But they were relatively slow in their long program. Morozov had a shaky landing on the double toe loop after a good triple toe, missed the side-by-side triple Salchow, and could not lift his partner on one of the lifts. He was quite upset and left the kiss and cry area before their scores were shown.

Between fourth place and the rest of the field, there was another huge gap of 33 points. The third Russian pair, Arina Ushakova and Sergei Karev, finished fifth in their first world class event. Most of their elements were all right, but they both fell hard to the ice when Karev stumbled during a lift.