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Savchenko, Szolkowy show winning lighter side

Canadians win another silver; young Chinese take bronze

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy showed off their humorous side in their free skate.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy showed off their humorous side in their free skate. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/14/2010) - They're back.

After a lackluster short program, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy redeemed themselves with a entertaining and technically demanding free to Pink Panther that outclassed the pairs field in Portland by nearly 20 points.

"Yesterday, we were a little disappointed; tonight, we feel better," Szolkowy said. "We are really happy with our first long program of this season."

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch won their second Grand Prix silver, while Wenjing Sui and Cong Hui executed a throw quadruple Salchow enroute to a bronze-medal finish. Uncharacteristic errors dropped U.S. champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett out of the medals.

After settling for bronze at the 2010 Olympics, Savchenko and Szolkowy had vowed to enjoy their skating more.

"We want to approach this post-Olympic season in a more relaxed way; we do not lock ourselves in the ice rink any more and just train, train, train," Szolkowy said. "The extreme pressure is gone, and we skate mainly because we love to skate.

"For our free, we chose music which allows us to show a bit of fun in the program. We still have to get adapted to this comedy-like way of skating, but we're trying."

Saturday night, they succeeded; the team's Pink Panther free, choreographed by their coach, Ingo Steuer, used humor effectively.

The two-time world champions opened with a strong throw triple flip and never looked back, also landing a triple toe-triple toe sequence and closing their program with a soaring throw triple Salchow. They earned 133.71 points and notched 197.70 overall.

"It was very difficult after the Olympic Games; we changed both programs, and it was hard to find something new," Savchenko said. "We searched for a long time, did a lot of thinking, and finally I said to Ingo, 'What do you think about Pink Panther?' We really like this program and we enjoy skating it."

In just their second season together, Moore-Towers and Moscovitch -- fifth in Canada last season - have likely qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

While their free skate to music from Les Miserables wasn't as strong here as it was at Skate Canada, the team earned 113.84 points, good enough for a second consecutive silver medal.

"It wasn't our easiest run through, but we fought through it and we're thrilled to get our second silver here," Moscovitch said.

"Most of our quick success comes from our coaches, Kris and Kristy Wirtz, and our choreographer, Mark Pillay," Moore-Towers said. "They give us such good material. We're thrilled to potentially go to China; it would be a great experience for us."

The diminutive Sui and Han, who quickly won over the crowd with their spirited performance to country music, rotated a rare throw quad Salchow. Although the 15-year-old Sui two-footed the landing, the element still earned 6.43 points. Overall, their free earned 112.54, an improvement over Cup of China.

"We lost many points on some elements, but we learned so much from the German team," Han said, using surprisingly good English.

"We have been training the quad throw for less than a year. Every day, we only spend 15 minutes training this quad throw."

With this second bronze Grand Prix medal, the young Chinese -- who have already qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final -- may also qualify for the Senior Grand Prix Final, depending upon the results of Cup of Russia and Trophee Eric Bompard.

"We don't know yet if that will happen, but if it does, I think we'll let our coach [Bo Luan] decide what we will do," Han said.

"There is a big different between senior and junior; in seniors, there is more pressure, and the other competitors have more experience," Sui added through an interpreter.

It was a major disappointment for Denney and Barrett, who stood third after the short. The U.S. champions lost a chance at their first-ever Grand Prix medal when Denney fell on the landing of a throw triple loop. They were seventh in the free and fourth overall with 166.42.

"I think that was the first time we've missed the [throw] loop in competition," Barrett said. "Our run-throughs at home have been a lot stronger. You can't make mistakes like we did and expect to win a Grand Prix medal."

"It's been kind of a roller coaster," said Denney of the team's recent coaching change to John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana. "Now we have some time before nationals to focus on our programs and elements."

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who have been trying the throw triple Axel in their Avatar free skate all season, gained full credit for the throw here, earning 5.07 points on it despite Castelli's step out on the landing. They also hit their throw triple Salchow and several exciting lifts, earning 106.09 in the free and ending in sixth place.

"Getting credit for the Axel, that's definitely the biggest take-away from this competition," Castelli said. "Every time we do it, it gets better. We really want to go home now, get more miles on our programs, and get ready for nationals."

U.S. junior champions Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth had a rough outing to their Miss Saigon, but gained valuable experience for their next assignment, Trophee Eric Bompard. They placed seventh with 126.70.