Pair short program

Be still my heart.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov were at it again today, leaving me to marvel at every step.

Firstly, they skated to the Masquerade Waltz, with its compelling rhythms. And I know that everybody notices (or at least I hope they do) all of those elements that they do to the max, but when you look at the choreography, the phrasing of their body movement to the music is so beautiful, goosebumps line up on my arm.

All this, and they were the only team to get a level four of difficulty for their spectacular triple twist – and judges lined up, all of them, to give them the maximum bonus points of +3. They got 8.30 points for that move alone. The wonderful Germans, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, got 6.90 for the same move.

It’s as if Savchenko and Szolkowy have walked into this tornado that they did not expect when they decided to take another four years and get a gold medal after missing out in Vancouver. They intended Vancouver to be their swan song, but one look at their faces on the podium, taking bronze four years ago, and you knew their story wasn’t finished. They decided the next day to journey on to Sochi.

Then they run into the likes of Volosozhar and Trankov. The matching up of these two was like an explosion. And here, they have set another world record, 84.17. The Russians own the seven top pair short program scores of all time. The Germans are 4.53 points back, going into the long program. “We want to fight for gold,” Szolkowy said. “The points don’t matter for now. Let’s see what comes out in the end.” The Germans defeated the Russians at the Grand Prix Final in December when Volosozhar and Trankov lost focus in the long program. Still, that doesn’t happen very often.

Pairs is a discipline with high risk and anything can happen. So they will all fight again today.

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov have improved by leaps and bounds over the past year and have charisma and some good tricks. And they seem to be good competitors. All week long, they fumbled with their throw triple flip in practice and even the warmup. Come competition time and they landed the darned thing, beautifully, with flair. They are setting themselves up for a bronze medal, something that wasn’t expected coming into the event. “In the two years since we moved up from juniors, we have made a big breakthrough and we progressed a lot,” said Klimov. “We didn’t think about points tonight. We just wanted to skate clean and this was our best performance of the season if not ever.” Good time to do it. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that they are coached by Volosozhar and Trankov’s coach: Nina Mozer, an underrated coach in Russia who is now becoming the diva. But she doesn’t act like a diva.

Pang Qing and Tong Jian are hovering in fourth, not far back, but Pang underrotated a triple toe loop. And hey, their throw triple loop was huge. And their routine to Lady Caliph was a thing of beauty. They started out, pressing their foreheads against each other, holding each others’ hands. They are to be married after the Games.

They have skated for 16 years together, often in the shadow of 2010 Olympic gold medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, and then their young peers Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, catching the leftovers. Read my chapter on them in my book “Skating To Sochi” for the whole story. It was a poignant moment to see that the Chinese chose Tong to bear the flag in the opening ceremonies. Finally, they had their due.

“It’s our last Olympic Games and I want to enjoy it and make it more meaningful,” Tong said. “It’s time to say goodbye to the ice rink and I hope we can have a happy ending.” You can see it in their eyes, when they look at each other, before they start and when they finish a routine.

The Canadian teams made slight bobbles, but in this field, mistakes are costly, so they sit in fifth and sixth. They have the tools they need. Dylan Moscovitch said the waiting game was hard: their practice was 12 hours before they actually competed. They were the last to skate. Yet they were relaxed. He told his partner, Kirsten Moore-Towers: “Let’s leave everything we have on the floor.”

Only 16 of 20 teams advance to the long. All three Canadians pairs made the cut. It will be a dramatic fight.


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