Volosozhar, Trankov prove peerless in 2012-13
Russian pair beats out U.S. ice dancers Davis, White to earn icenetwork.com 'Skaters of the Year'' title
|Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov did Mother Russia proud this season. (Getty Images)|
The Russian pair went through this past season without a blemish on their record: They competed seven times, and they won seven gold medals. No one else can claim that many victories in that time (although one team can come close ... more on them later).
They were tested at times -- namely, at the Grand Prix Final, where they actually finished second in the free skate to compatriots Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov; and at the 2013 European Championships, where, for the first time, they beat their main rivals, Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, head to head -- but they answered every challenge, and they rose to the occasion when it mattered most.
At the 2013 World Championships in London, Ontario, it was clear from the get-go that Volosozhar and Trankov were endeavoring to prove they were without peer. Up by two points after the short program, they went out and threw down a free skate that was, simply put, the best ever performed by a pairs team since the inception of the international judging system (IJS). Their segment score (149.87) is the highest ever recorded under the IJS, as is their competition total (225.71). The 20-point margin of victory they posted over silver medalists Savchenko and Szolkowy was stunning, and it established the Russians as the team to beat heading into the Olympic season.
That is not to say the dominance Volosozhar and Trankov displayed in their discipline was unrivaled in others. In fact, the margin by which the duo took the honor of "Skaters of the Year" over U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White was about as slim as could be: It came down to the strength of their competition at the European championships versus that of Davis and White at the 2013 Four Continents Championships. (As the SOTY is determined by the icenetwork.com World Skater Rankings, and points earned at certain competitions are factored based on the number of ranked skaters in the field, the Russians benefited from a stronger pairs field at Europeans, whereas Davis and White were hurt by the relatively weak dance field at Four Continents.)
There are other cases to be made for the Russians. Their margin of victory in their seven wins was 13.7 points; Davis and White's was 11.1. While Davis and White have near-equals in Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Volosozhar and Trankov managed to distance themselves from the pack this season.
In a close race -- closer than almost any other of the world's pairs teams could give them this season -- Volosozhar and Trankov win out over Davis and White.
1. Volosozhar and Trankov (4,910 points) - In becoming the first pair from Russia to win a world title in eight years -- a virtual eternity for that country -- these two set themselves up nicely to make a run at Olympic gold on their home turf next season in Sochi, Russia.
2. Davis and White (4,655) - They evened the score with Virtue and Moir in terms of the number of world championships each team owns (two). The question is, can they equal the Canadians' accomplishment in Vancouver and add an Olympic gold medal?
3. Mao Asada (4,010) - Asada had her strongest campaign since maybe the 2009-10 Olympic season, winning both of her Grand Prix assignments, the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents. The Japanese skater returned to the world podium, taking bronze, after two straight sixth-place finishes.
4. Virtue and Moir (3,289) - The Canadians took a small step back this season, finishing second to Davis and White at the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents and worlds. A return to the top of the ice dance heap is not out of the question, however, for this formidable duo.
5. Patrick Chan (3,052) - Chan took home this honor last season, but he showed some vulnerability in 2012-13, finishing second at Skate Canada and third at the Grand Prix Final. His hold on the title of "Best Male Skater in the World" is as tenuous as it's been in some time.
6. Ashley Wagner (2,755) - Wagner came out of the gate like gangbusters, winning both of her Grand Prix events in convincing fashion, but she lost a little steam as the year wore on. With Gracie Gold breathing down her neck, she will need to continue show improvement if she wants to remain the preeminent ladies skater in the U.S.
7. Javier Fernández (2,699.40) - When the Spaniard is at his best, he is close to unbeatable (see his performance at the 2013 European Championships). He does have a tendency, however, to lose his focus (see his free skate at the NHK Trophy and his short programs at the Grand Prix Final and worlds), and that has cost him some higher placements. Still, he is as serious a threat to Chan's reign as there is today.
8. Yuzuru Hanyu (2,536) - Another skater who, like Fernández, inspires awe when he brings the goods -- as he did in, say, the short program at Skate America and the NHK Trophy, and in the free skate at the Grand Prix Final. It's the matter of bringing those goods on a consistent basis, however, that is preventing him from winning major championships.
9. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (2,475) - Sure, the rewards they reaped at worlds were partly the result of some sloppy skating by their French counterparts, but it would be foolhardy to write off these ice dancers as merely the beneficiaries of good fortune. With their new coaches, they showed marked improvement this season, and skating on Russian ice at the Olympics, they could easily find themselves on the podium.
10. Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat (2,375) - They looked to be on target for their second straight bronze medal at the world championships, but a series of mistakes in the free dance dropped this team to sixth, their lowest finish at the event since 2008. Now, with not only Bobrova and Soloviev but the team of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov on the rise, Péchalat and Bourzat must figure out a way to stave off their challengers, both of whom will have home-ice advantage at the 2014 Olympic Games.