First-time Olympians start strong in pair competition

It took absolute perfection for teams to elbow their way to the top in the pairs short program at the Sochi Games.

The Canadian teams weren’t far wrong. Yet forward landings on side-by-side triple Lutzes and a slight bobble in the footwork section, threw Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and EricRadford into fifth place with 72.21 points, just short of their season’s best.

And Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch entranced the crowd at the Ice Palace into silence for much of their Motley Crue routine, lost some levels on their death spiral and are in sixth place with 70.92 points.

The leaders, as everyone expected, are Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia, who were at the top of their game and set a world record mark of 84.17. The Russians now hold seven of the top marks ever scored in pair skating.

Their triple twist was the ultimate effort. They were the only skaters in the competition to get a level four for it. And every single judge awarded them a +3 for grade of execution. That element was one of their big point-getters, earning them 8.30 points. They also got 8.40 for a lift.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, feeling that their short routine wasn’t quite up to tackling the Russians, took a risk 10 days before the Olympics and decided to switch their short program routine. They took a successful old sod, the Pink Panther long program from three seasons ago, and cut it down to fit the shorter time slot, complete with the tricks they needed. It was a harrowing time to make such a switch, but it worked for them.

They were spectacular, landing a huge throw triple flip, but their perfection wasn’t enough. They finished second with 79.64 points. They earned only a level two on their death spiral.

In third place is an emerging Russian team, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who had been having troubles with a throw triple flip in practice all week. But they chose to land it in the short program with aplomb and finished with 75.21 points, nicely ahead of 2010 Olympic silver medalists Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China.

Canada’s third team, Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, who have never competed at a world championship, skated well to finish 13th with 58.97 points, six points higher than their previous best.

Duhamel and Radford had to skate directly after Stolbova and Klimov, with the crowd standing wildly and cheering. “It was very difficult to skate after the hometown team,” Duhamel said. “It sounds like a hockey game out there. We made some minor mistakes, but I’m proud of what we were able to do in that circumstance.”

Skating to Radford’s composition “Tribute,” Duhamel and Radford opened up with a nice big triple twist, and then Radford fought to keep from pitching his hand onto the ice on the side-by-side triple Lutz. They did land a perfect throw triple Lutz, the most difficult of the competition. Their death spiral was rated only a level two. As Duhamel walked off the ice, she said to coach Richard Gauthier “It was hard.”

Radford said they enjoyed every minute of the skate. “Being out there, every moment is an amazing and unforgettable memory.” Both are competing at their first Olympics, although they are in their late twenties.

Is there a chance of a medal at this point for last year’s world bronze medalists? “We want a medal really bad,” Duhamel said. “But for us, skating the free of a lifetime would be worth more than gold.”

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch had the crowd clapping to the intriguing rhythms of their music at the beginning, as they launched into a triple twist that was not as big as some of the other teams, but they got a level three for it while Duhamel and Radford got a level two. The triple toe loops went without a hitch and so did a throw triple loop. By this time the building went silent, before they started to clap again in time to the music as they executed their sit spins. It was a charming, high-quality routine. Their Achilles’ heel? A death spiral that earned them only a level one.

With her brother, Jesse, (a champion bull rider), in the audience as well as her parents, Lawrence was mesmerized by the Olympic experience. She skated with a groin injury that has bothered her all season, but said she’s about 80 per cent recovered.

Their triple twists were good and then Lawrence stepped out of a triple toe loop. But they barrelled back into focus with a pair spin, and then they went for a throw triple Lutz. Lawrence put a hand down on it. Their score of 58.97 was about six points better than their previous personal best and the pair was grinning. “It was fun,” Lawrence said. “The whole time, I’m thinking: ‘I’m at the Olympics!”

“This is our first Olympics,” she said. “We have never even been to worlds before. So when we stepped on the ice, I kept saying, ‘This is awesome. This is so awesome.’”

Lawrence and Swiegers weren’t part of the Canadian team silver medal win, and feel separated from it. “It feels like our time is now,” she said.

Stolbova and Klimov helped Russia win its team gold medal and actually won the long program for Russia. Klimov said it was easier to skate in the pair short program than in the team event because “we already knew what to expect,” he said. “We felt even more support from the audience tonight. It helped us a lot.”

It was an unforgettable moment for unforgettable Russian pair skaters. “We were so nervous today,” Volosozhar said. Trankov said the gold medal that they won in the team event put pressure on them to repeat their performance again. They managed their emotions.

“The crowd was incredible,” Trankov said. “It’s very special. We are so happy to have such a moment and this amazing competition in our lives….I will never feel the same.”

He said there were moments when he was quite nervous, and other moments when things seemed easy and “I thought I was just flying,” But he had to contain himself and focus on the elements. And so they did.

Beverley Smith

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