A star is born

In the midst of all of the drama of the pairs skating event at the Sochi Olympics, some stars were born: Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov.

They were dark horses, it seemed, but not really. Only a month ago, they had defeated the current Olympic champs Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov in the free skate at the European championships. Only fourth after the short program, Stolbova and Klimov won the free skate after the favoured Russians missed both of their jumps. Stolbova and Klimov won the free with  137.08 points, .68 points more than Volosozhar and Trankov. The kids beat the stars in the technical mark, of course. They took the silver medal, still overshadowed by the magnificence of their elder peers.

Still, Stolbova and Klimov flew under the radar going into Sochi. But these skaters – junior silver world medalists just a few years ago – are quick learners and all season long, they have been gaining speed. It seemed to start with their plan to move from St. Petersburg to Moscow last April to train with Nina Mozer, the coach of Volosozhar and Trankov. That idea was opposed by the head of the St. Petersburg skating federation, but the Russian federation overruled it, seemingly saw the potential and let them move. What an idea.

Could they possibly have thought they’d be going to the Olympics when they picked their free skate music: “The Addams Family?” Perhaps not. It’s not Olympic. It’s fun. It shows their character. They are now clearly capable of more.

At the start of the season, they were basically ranked No. 4 in Russia, behind Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov and Vera Bazarova and Yuri Lorionov, the 2012 Russian champions. Smirnov suffered a serious injury early in the season and couldn’t make it to Sochi. And then when Volosozhar and Trankov skipped Russian nationals to train, Stolbova and Klimov defeated the other Russian team by .45 points to become Russian champions.

The difference between Bazarova and Lorionov and Stolbova and Klimov is striking. The kids love music, have a hand in their own work. They get performance. They have charisma. They are musical. They came out in Sochi with intimidating power and force. Stolbova is so focused, her eyes are like lasers. They are good competitors. Bazarova and Lorionov were dreadful at the Sochi Olympics, skating far apart, paying no attention to the music, never looking at each other, and missing elements. Stolbova and Klimov soared. And every day, they soared higher.

Is it any wonder that the Russians picked Stolbova and Klimov to skate the team long program, rather than the more experienced Bazarova and Lorionov? And they won it. And then they returned in the individual event and took the silver medal. All this and Stolbova and Klimov have never even competed at a (senior) world championship.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity [to compete at an Olympics at home],” Klimov said. They took full advantage of it.

They defeated four-time world championships Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, who had toiled for an extra four years to win the gold medal, disappointed to get bronze at the Vancouver Games. But within 15 to 20 seconds, their dream was over, when Szolkowy fell on a triple toe loop combination. Savchenko and Szolkowy threw everything at this effort – even changing their short program just before the Games. And in a gutsy move, at the end of their long when their legs were burning, they decided to do a throw triple Axel that they hadn’t practiced all week. Savchenko fell.

It was devastating for the Germans. They finished only fourth in the long program, behind Pang Qing and Tong Jian, who managed third in their final Olympic competition. After four years, Savchenko and Szolkowy earned a second bronze medal. It was not part of their plan.

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