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World Skater Rankings: A peek at the pairs

Savchenko and Szolkowy, Volosozhar and Trankov in class of their own

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany are still the world No. 1, but Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov aren't far behind.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany are still the world No. 1, but Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov aren't far behind. (Getty Images)

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By icenetwork.com
(08/07/2012) - Each week, Icenetwork.com is revealing one discipline in the season's initial World Skater Rankings. Now up are the pairs, where it's a German team, a Russian team and everyone else.

1. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, Germany (4,047 points) -- The masterful Germans showed no signs of slowing down last season, winning five of their six events, including the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships. Word is they're keeping their acclaimed Pina free skate from last season; it'll be interesting to see what more they can bring out of it that they haven't already.

2. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Russia (3,550.50) -- These two were every bit as good as the Germans were last season, and having another season under their belts -- they're only been a team for two years, while the Germans are entering their 10th season together -- will only enhance their connection on the ice. This could be the year they overtake their rivals.

3. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, China (2044.44) -- Teetering back and forth between junior and senior the last couple seasons, this young Chinese team will fully dedicate itself to the senior ranks in 2012-13. Sui and Han's maturity will be tested, but there is no denying their huge elements; technically, they can hang with anyone.

4. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, Russia (1990,50) -- This Russian team is trending in the wrong direction, going from a third-place finish at worlds in 2010 to a fourth-place showing in 2011 to seventh last season -- their lowest placement at the event since their debut in 2007. They are still one of the world's elite teams, but they need to come up with better performances on the sport's biggest stage to re-affirm that status.

5. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, Russia (1,632.50) -- Bazarova and Larionov are a difficult team to analyze. They put out consistently sound performances and garner strong finishes, but they have had trouble forging an identity for themselves. They ended the season on a high note, winning the pairs competition at the World Team Trophy. Maybe that result will give them the momentum they need heading into this season.

6. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canada (1,490.74) -- This duo took a big step forward last season -- just their second one as a team -- qualifying for the Grand Prix Final, winning their first Canadian title and placing fifth at worlds. If they continue to grow at the same rate they have in their relatively short time together, Duhamel and Radford should find themselves in the medal mix at major competitions for a long time.

7. Qing Pang and Jian Tong, China (1,482.50) -- The year-long layoff between competitions did not serve Pang and Tong well, as they faltered at the 2012 World Championships, finishing fourth. With a full off-season to dedicate themselves to their programs and to competition, there's no reason the 2010 Olympic silver medalists can't challenge the Germans and Russians for world supremacy.

8. Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, Japan (1,472.88) -- Their stunning bronze-medal finish at the 2012 World Championships elevated them to a status never before reached by a Japanese pairs team ... but is it warranted? We say it mostly is, although we'd like to see them prove their mettle against the world's top teams when the latter actually skate to their capabilities.

9. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, Canada (948.68) -- These Canadians took a small step back last season, failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and missing out on worlds as a result of their fourth-place finish at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. The word coming out of their summer competitions is that they have a renewed sense of focus, and they will need it, as Canada is stockpiling a stable of outstanding pairs teams.

10. Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, Italy (894.36) -- Since teaming up in 2009, these two have posted some impressive results, not the least of which was their bronze medal at the 2011 Rostelecom Cup, the first pairs Grand Prix medal in Italian figure skating history. It's hard to see them breaking into the upper echelon in their discipline, but they will do their country proud nonetheless.

11. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, United States (793.80) -- While the results Denney and Coughlin had with their previous partners were nothing to sneeze at, it's clear pairing these two up was an inspired decision. They put out several clean performances throughout the season, their finest one coming at the 2012 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, where they won the silver. Anything less than a major step forward this season would be considered a disappointment.

12. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, Russia (790.04) -- They showed what they can do when given the opportunity, earning the bronze at the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships. The problem is, with three of the top five teams in the world also hailing from Russia, they're not likely to get that chance very often.

13. Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende, Germany (786.82) -- Speaking of being overshadowed by your country mates ...

14. Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin, China (684.94) -- Yu and Jin actually posted a higher technical score than eventual champions Sui and Han in the free skate at the 2012 World Junior Championships and walked away with the silver. With the reigning three-time champions moving up to the senior ranks for good, the door is open for these two to claim the mantle of "World's Best Junior Pairs Team."

15. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, United States (630.80) -- Their partnership came together in a hurry, and their results in their first season -- while encouraging -- weren't overwhelmingly positive. But a second-place finish at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and a bronze-medal-winning performance at the 2012 Four Continents Championships signaled that they are a team on the climb.

16. Jessica Dubé and Sebastien Wolfe, Canada (586.8) -- Wolfe had to raise his game quickly to be able to skate with Dubé, who made a name for herself with previous partner Bryce Davison. It all came together for this team at the Canadian championships, where it won the silver. The pairs competition in Canada is fierce, but these two have what it takes to rise to the top of the heap.

17. Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, Canada (565.04) -- This team has risen from inauspicious beginnings (14th-place finishes in junior at each of its first two appearances at the Canadian championships) to emerge as a force in pairs skating. Their results suffered slightly last season, and with the ascension of other teams within their country's borders, the pressure is on them to remain relevant.

18. Katarina Gerboldt and Alexander Enbert, Russia (499.40) -- Like compatriots Stolbova and Klimov, Gerboldt and Enbert have performed well in their time together ... they just haven't had a lot of chances to show what they can do against top-flight competition. They have one Grand Prix assignment this fall, and getting the "TBA" spot at the Rostelecom Cup would go a long way toward elevating them to the next tier of teams.

19. Mari Vartmann and Aaron Van Cleave, Germany (488.40) -- Vartmann and Van Cleave have won a bunch of medals at senior B-level competitions; now it's time for them to see how they stack up against the big boys. They'll get a pretty good indication in their two Grand Prix events this fall, the Rostelecom Cup and the NHK Trophy. They definitely have what it takes to overtake Hausch and Wende as the No. 2 team in Germany.

20. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, France (401.80) -- James brings some good experience into this partnership, as she and her previous partner, Yannick Bonheur, won French nationals in 2010 and competed at the Olympic Games that same year. A possible second Grand Prix assignment in the fall (Trophée Bompard?) would greatly enhance their standing.