Figure Skating: From the Boards

Nice, Take Two: Pairs Preview March 24, 2012

Marina Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov had only been skating together for two years when they captured their first World title the first time Worlds were in Nice. That year, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao actually won the short program with a flawless skate. And in the absence of the then-reigning champs Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, there would be a first-time champion in 2000.

In the free skate, it was the Russians who put together the best four minutes to top Shen and Zhao by owning the presentation mark. Shen and Zhao — who had narrowly missed out on gold the year before — still had some growing to do before they would develop into the beloved team they are now.

Flash forward a mere 12 years, and it’s another Russian duo (two, actually) taking on another Chinese pair, and attempting to fend off the reigning champs from Germany.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, along with Tatiana Volsozhar and Maxim Trankov, and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov have played an unpredictable game of leap frog all season.

Aliona and Robin and Tatiana and Maxim each won both of their Grand Prix events. Yuko and Alexander won their first, but placed second to the Germans at Rostelecom Cup. Then at the Final, it was again the Germans taking the top spot, but by a mere .18 over Volosozhar and Trankov. Kavaguti and Smirnov were third.

Each of the three has also battled injuries at some point, Savchenko and Szolkowy as recent as Europeans where they were not able to compete.

Not to be forgotten is the Chinese team of Qing Pang and Jian Tong. The two did not compete on the Grand Prix circuit this year, making it difficult to predict how they’ll stack up. They finished third at last year’s Worlds.

The other Chinese team of Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are the kids with the fancy tricks. However, their polish and maturity will show quite glaringly against the other teams.

Then you have a host of challengers who, though they may not be favorites to medal, could push the teams at the top.

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran are an exciting, young team with elegance and presentation beyond their years. Their elements — when they hit them — are stunning. Trouble is, they tend to miss a lot. And they often don’t just miss one thing. When it goes wrong, it seems a lot goes wrong. They need to clean up their act if they want to contend.

Canadian darlings, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are, in a word, delightful. Their charm reaches every person who watches them, and the connection between the two of them makes you love them even more. Both their programs have strong choreography, and they are more than capable of putting out strong technical components.

But you can’t forget about the Americans. Now, American pairs skating has, undoubtedly, been lacking for some time. John Coughlin and Caitlyn Yankowskas looked to be a shining hope, but instead, they split. However, that made way for Caydee Denny to rejoin the elite ranks. Now, she and John are on the brink of putting U.S. skating back on the map.

Their technical elemnts are their strength. They have a split triple twist that makes my jaw drop, every single time. They need more time to develop intricacies in their choreography and finesse in their presentation, but there is a good chance for them to make a splash in Nice.

If they don’t, Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker will. Another team well on their way to greatness, they are, perhaps, this season’s Most Improved. They have a refreshing youthfulness, and an equally exhilarating determination.  This is likely not their year, but don’t forget the faces.

In the end, only one team can win, and two more will join them on the medal stand. Here’s how I see it breaking down.

Gold — Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov
Silver — Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy
Bronze — Yuko Kavaguti and Aledanxer Smirnov
Fourth — Qing Pang and Jian Tong

*I’ll also say that both American teams have a good chance to finish within the top ten.

Nice Part One took place two years before the Salt Lake City Olympics. Part Two? Two years before the Sochi games. In 2000, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier placed fourth. They went on to share the gold in the oh-so-famous 2002 pairs competition. Will history repeat itself this time around? Only time will tell!

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