Apr 1, 2012
Worlds 2012: Pairs LP Recap
Quick, somebody pinch me. No, actually, someone punch me in the face. This has to be a dream. Seriously. What a surreal, thrilling pairs event. The opening (i.e. the short programs) may have been more of a whimper, but some of the pairs certainly ended with a bang in the long program.
Like any other rational person soberly resisting the (admittedly alluring) vagaries of wishful thinking, my formal podium predictions based on past results and the recent injury updates prior to the event were:
3) Pang/Tong OR Kavaguti/Smirnov
However, in my moments of delusion, I secretly nursed hopes that the podium would be:
1) Savchenko/Szolkowy (PINA!)
Never even in my wildest flights of fantasizing did I actually think this podium would ever become reality at Nice, not even after the short program happened. I have never been so glad to be so wrong!
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy won the gold medal in pairs in what turned out to be the narrowest margin across all disciplines at Worlds this year (0.11 points). Their brilliant Pina long program was not quite so scintillating at Worlds and their Grand Prix Final performance still remains the best rendition of the program this season, but Savchenko/Szolkowy definitely deserved the gold medal overall when the results of the short program are taken in mind. Savchenko/Szolkowy did have a couple of very noticeable errors--the SBS spins that were glaringly out of unison (typical for them), Mr. Szolkowy singling his SBS 2A, and that pairs combination spin that was very slow and eeked out--but none of them were particularly disruptive. Rather, the performance suffered more from a feeling of tentativeness and a certain lack of commitment/conviction needed to show off the dance choreography to full effect. Though it was a good performance given Savchenko/Szolkowy's recent injury problems, it paled in comparison to Volosozhar/Trankov, who threw down the gauntlet like never before. However, I was glad to see that Savchenko/Szolkowy did win on the TR mark in PCS, but I wish they won on CH as well. Nonetheless, I do agree with the judges that Volosozhar/Trankov deserved to place ahead of Savchenko/Szolkowy on the total PCS overall.
Both Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov skated onto the ice with an air of deadly calm.
Mr. Trankov in particular looked like he spent the last 48 hours mentally flagellating himself for the sins of the short program and came out a better man after it. Maybe I'm looking at this through the comfortable lens of retrospect right now, but one could really tell they were going to kill Black Swan with that cold high air of zen-like calm they were effecting prior to starting. Arm flapping to begin, Mr. Trankov in particular looked convincingly like an angry bird of prey. Fantastic 3twist, then two rock-solid jumping passes: 3S, 3T-2T. A death spiral that doesn't end in a fall, then the ever-so-slightly out of unison SBS spins. I must say that Mr. Trankov looked more and more intense as the program went on, an intensity born of sheer determination and force of will. To continue with the religious analogies, if Mr. Trankov was a martyr being disembowled by a spiked wheel after the short program, he was absolutely the guy cranking the spiked wheel and tearing apart those heretics during the long program. Those eyes, that righteous determination. Throw 3Lo - a beauty. Throw 3S - also excellent. The ending of the final lift should have been smoother, but it hardly mattered in the larger scheme of things. The crowd went absolutely bonkers for Volosozhar/Trankov even before they hit their ending pose, and honestly, I did as well. It was absolutely a commanding performance, skated with a passion and intensity that they've hitherto only showed in flashes and hints. 140.90 for the long program, a new season's best and personal best, and a score that ensured their spot on the podium. From 8th place in the short to 0.11 points away from the gold, like Lazarus come forth from the dead. I would say they deserved to win the long program and most components of PCS, so I'm not even going to quibble about the PCS they actually received (er, higher CH?!) or how Black Swan is an inferior program to Pina. Fantastic skating. But next season, I hope for better choreography that makes use of their whole bodies as opposed to mostly the upper half, more expression from Ms. Volosozhar to keep up with Mr. Trankov, and a plane ticket to a choreographer not named Nikolai Morozov. I know this is impossible, but I would love to see what someone like Tamara Moskvina could cook up for them.
Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran made history by becoming the first Japanese pair to win a world medal in pairs skating, a bronze that was probably one of the biggest surprises of the World Championships as a whole, even to them and their coaching team. The talent and the beauty of this young pair had always been there, but for most of their career, it was their inconsistency and inability to nail their technical elements that kept both their TES and PCS down. To see things finally come together at an event as important as their second World Championships was incredible, and truth be told, completely unexpected. I have been very fond of Takahashi/Tran ever since I first saw them in 2009, but I definitely did not expect them to win a world medal before 2014 or perhaps before a lobotomy. Even after their very fine third-place short program, I expected them to botch a bunch of elements and sink down the ranks like, well, almost every time they've skated their long programs in the past. I am absolutely thrilled they proved me wrong.
Although Takahashi/Tran's long program, sent to Concerto de Quebec, is not quite as choreographically strong as their stellar Imagine short program, it is still a very aesthetically-pleasing program to watch (which is most unfortunately rare for CoP pairs programs). Though the music admittedly borders on muzak in some respects and I usually loathe skating programs with muzak, the style fits Takahashi/Tran. Takahashi/Tran have this simple, lucidly pure style that is sweet without the sugar, and most importantly, they move well to the music and have a real emotional connection. Unlike the majority of other muzak programs, it feels sincere when Takahashi/Tran do it and that makes all the difference in the world. Of course, their pretty carriage, positions and overall refinement definitely help as well. As for what actually happened at Worlds: Takahashi/Tran began with a good 3twist, then go out of sync, step out and visibly underrotate their SBS 3S. Typical, thought I...then they actually both hit the SBS 3T-2T sequence. Huh. Everything else but the two-footed throw 3S was clean and neatly done (especially their lovely lifts), and they're obviously thrilled. They end up scoring a total of 124.32 points, clearly their personal and season's best, and their reaction in the kiss-and-cry was an utter Moment of Heartwarming.
I was very pleased at how much the judges went for them in the long program--their PCS was quite high (deservingly) for such a young team from a national federation that is known for being less-than-invested in pairs (does Japan even have a pairs team that can qualify for Japan's second spot in the pairs discipline?). I believe Worlds was the first time they broke into the 60-range of PCS. With the patina of being world medallists and more solid performances under their belt, their PCS should and will be even higher. However, Takahashi/Tran do still have quite a few areas in which they could definitely improve on to score more points: more speed and power in their skating, upgrade the difficulty of their elements (e.g. upgrading their 3TTh with a harder throw, etc), and most importantly, skate with more consistency, especially on their SBS jumping passes and throw jumps. I highly doubt they will be able to catch up to Savchenko/Szolkowy and Volosozhar/Trankov's level before 2014, but after that, who knows....