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Relaxed Savchenko, Szolkowy step out to lead

Duhamel, Radford place second with personal best; Americans falter, sit sixth, seventh

Aliona Savchenko goes flying high into the air during her and Robin Szolkowy's winning short program.
Aliona Savchenko goes flying high into the air during her and Robin Szolkowy's winning short program. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/26/2012) - Last week, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won Skate America gold, but the moody Russians were far from happy with their performances.

Their top rivals, Aliona Savcheno and Robin Szolkowy, arrived at Skate Canada with far sunnier mindsets.

First, the four-time and reigning world champions not only hit every element in their short program for a solid early-season score of 72.26 points, some 6.48 higher than the Russians gained last week.

Then, the often-dour Germans giggled their way through the press conference.

"The season is a bit more relaxed for us," Szolkowy said. "We are already thinking ahead to Sochi (site of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games); that is our main goal."

Although they would be wise not to get ahead of themselves, the Germans did skate a near-flawless short program to "Kismet" by Bond, starting with a bigger-than-usual throw triple flip, followed by spot-on triple toe loops; a Level 3 triple twist; and a Level 4 back outside death spiral, one of the first (if not the first) recorded this season. The final three elements of the program all gained Level 4.

If Savchenko and Szolkowy had a flaw, it was skating with a bit of uncharacteristic caution, especially on the "in-between" transition moves and steps.

"This was the first time we showed this program in a competition this year, and I think we are happy with our performance," Szolkowy said. "We did all of the elements in a clean way, I would say, and we got all of our levels."

There's no deep meaning to their "Kismet" short; the music is simply a vehicle to showcase their skating.

"We have a big list of music [selections], and every year we listen to different kinds of music again and again, and every year we make a decision," Szolkowy said. "There's no special story. We're trying to show our own style on the ice."

About the most avant-garde things about the Germans' short program are their costumes: complementary unitards in a rainbow of colors, created over a period of more than a month.

"We put together a design team, based in Chemnitz, to do both the short and long program costumes, and it was very interesting," Szolkowy said. "We were trying to get the right fittings, but everything turned out well, I think. We believe in these costumes, so even if others criticize them, we will keep them."

Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford hit new heights with their short to music from Puccini's La Boheme, gaining a personal-best 64.49 points for a program that included a soaring opening triple twist and a daring lift. Their only noticeable mistake was Radford's two-footed landing on a triple Lutz.

"We're very pleased with our short program," Duhamel said. "We did leave some points on the table -- we had a couple of stumbles on choreography on my part -- but we're happy we got Level 3 on the triple twist, we're happy with most of our levels, and we're happy with the triple Lutzes."

Italy's Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, fourth at the 2012 European championships, had an impressive short to the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," opening with solid triple toes as well as a throw triple loop and smoothly executed steps. They earned 59.79 points, just under their personal best.

"We are pretty happy with our performance," Berton said. "We've been practicing clean shorts pretty close to this one. I must say I was struggling a bit with my side-my-side spins -- that was a funny thing -- but I'm pretty happy."

The two U.S. teams competing here both competed at the senior "B" in Salt Lake City last month, and both improved their scores.

Lindsay Davis and Mark Ladwig, who teamed up this spring, opened with solid triple Salchows and also landed a throw triple loop but lost points when their triple twist failed to gain a level and their final two elements, the step sequence and back outside death spiral, gained just Level 1.

They are sixth with 47.05 points.

"We missed many levels, let's not beat around the bush," Ladwig said. "[The technical panel] didn't think it was clear enough on the changes of position on the [Level 2] lift. Footwork, I would have to look at it to tell what happened. The twist, I would have thought would get Level 1; I thought Lindsay did a split, in my opinion, but it is the [technical] panel that decides.

"There is so much gray; apparently, we didn't make it black and white enough."

Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin, ninth in the U.S. last season, sit seventh with 46.47 points after Vise fell on an under-rotated triple toe. The team gained high levels on several of their elements, including their side-by-side spins and step sequence.

"The program feels very comfortable," Vise said. "I was a little nervous going into the toe, a little tight on the take-off. I tried to save it so it wouldn't be a fall, but it did count as a fall. I thought we performed the program well and paid attention to all of the little details."