(AP) With the Sochi Olympics a year away, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are right on target.
Volosozhar and Trankov gave Russia its first pairs title in eight years at the World Figure Skating Championships on Friday, shattering two world records in the process. Their total score of 225.71 was almost eight points better than the previous mark, while their free skate score of 149.87 was exactly five points higher.
"It means we can fight for the gold in Sochi," Trankov said. "It would be big to give back for Russia the Olympic gold, because we lose it in Vancouver in 2010."
When they finished, she hopped up and down. He bent over, spent, and she smiled as she kissed the top of his head. The victory completed a sweep of the season's major titles Grand Prix Final, European championships, worlds for the Russians. They haven't lost a competition since finishing second at last year's worlds.
Volosozhar and Trankov's upset of four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy at Europeans set up what was expected to be an exciting rematch at the worlds. But the Germans turned out to be something of a dud, finishing about 20 points back with a subdued and sloppy performance. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, second after the short program, dropped to third with a labored effort that also had errors.
Americans Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim were ninth, an impressive debut for a pair that's been together not even a year. U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir were 13th, ensuring that the United States will be able to send two pairs to Sochi.
Russia has a sterling tradition in pairs, winning at least a share of the gold medal at every Olympics from 1964 to 2006. But that streak came to a thudding halt in Vancouver. Not only did the Russians fail to win gold, they didn't even have a pair on the podium. It was a tremendous embarrassment, made even worse by the fact the next Olympics are in Russia.
But Volosozhar and Trankov have restored the proud lineage. Despite this being only their third season together, they embody the best qualities of Russian pairs. And they were a welcome sight after an afternoon of mostly lackluster performances.
With nearly perfect unison and choreography that exquisitely fit their "Violin Muse" program, they were a pure joy. Their ballet training was evident in gorgeous lines and extensions, details that elevate a good program to greatness.
What makes pairs special, however, is that constant element of danger, and the Russians know how to thrill. She got so high on their triple twist she ought to have had clearance from Canadian aviation authorities, and they almost ran out of ice on their throw triple loop. On their final lift, not only did he carry her for what seemed like hours, he did most of it while gliding backward on only one foot, a feat that takes strength, dexterity and more than a little guts.
They weren't perfect, with him tripping after their throw triple salchow. But it hardly mattered when the rest of their program was so spectacular.
The Germans are known for brash, in-your-face programs, but they went for a different look with their flamenco "Bolero." Even their costumes, usually such a train wreck the snarky fashion folks at "Us" magazine have no words, were subdued: She wore a black dress with a colorful bikini-like top; he was in a matching shirt and black pants.
It didn't work. Any of it.
Savchenko and Szolkowy's errors were bad enough. He fell on their side-by-side triple salchows and she doubled both of the jumps in their triple toe loop-triple toe sequence. She also two-footed the landing of a throw triple axel and put her hand down, though they got a ton of points for even trying the difficult jump. But their program was so slow, it's a wonder snores weren't heard in the arena.
Fans booed when they saw Savchenko and Szolkowy's scores, which moved them ahead of Duhamel and Radford. But the Canadians had their issues, too. Their unison went off and on like a light switch in their combination spin, and they nearly bumped into each other on the last jump of their triple salchow-double toe-double toe combination.
Together less than a year, Scimeca and Knierim show tremendous potential. They have the daring athleticism that makes pairs skating thrilling she soared so high on their opening triple twist that he would have had time to bend down and relace his skates, and NBA players will be asking for tips on her hang time on the throw jumps but they're equally polished at the soft side of the discipline. Skating to "Life is Beautiful," fans could feel the connection between the two. (They're a couple off the ice as well.)
That's always the goal of pairs, of course, but some couples can only fake it. When Scimeca laid her head on Knierim's shoulder during a lift, it looked natural, not something a choreographer or coach told her to do.
Of course, the Americans have had a several other promising pairs the last few years, only to see them break up after a season or two.
"A big part of teams breaking up is they want quick success without the time behind it," said Scimeca and Knierim's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, the premier pairs coach in the United States now. "You need that longevity."
And Scimeca and Knierim promised they will have it.
"We're in it forever," Scimeca said. "And you can quote me on that."