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Apr 6, 2015

A Toast to Pairs Skating, IJS version

A post dedicated to those of us still grappling with the results of the pairs event at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships.

By now, the axiom that IJS has destroyed the beauty of pairs skating is a hoary chestnut among the figure skating commentariat. And can you blame them? The memories of level-grubbing atrocities such as catchfoot death spirals and awkward lift positions with various limbs akimo are still very fresh and very painful. But all is not lost in this valley of tears, for we have the skating of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy to show that IJS pairs skating can reach the heights of greatness achieved by the legendary pairs who competed during the halcyon days of 6.0.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. I consider them one of the greatest--if not THE greatest--pairs team to have been competed under the auspices of IJS. They are certainly one of the most decorated pairs teams in terms of medals, but I feel that perceptions of Savchenko/Szolkowy have often been clouded by some of their (admittedly quite ludicrous) costumes, the whole Ingo Steuer/Stasi controversy, Ms. Savchenko's over-generous application of self-tanner, some sloppy gold-winning performances, and their disappointingly underwhelming performances at the Olympic games (and corresponding lack of Olympic gold).

But nonetheless, Savchenko/Szolkowy deserve a position among the pantheon of greats. Here we have a pairs team who have contributed so much to both sides of the technical/creative dichotomy that is figure skating. This is a team that has not only steadily upgraded their elements, adding the triple twist, inserting new and difficult transitions into and out of their elements, sticking that throw triple salchow at the end of the program, adding the throw triple axel . . . yet they have also not hesitated to take risks and stretch themselves stylistically. What other team can boast a stylistic range as diverse as Savchenko/Szolkowy? And I haven't even begun to rhapsodize about their intricate programs choreographed so superbly to their music, the creative use of transitions . . .

I feel that pairs (perhaps tied with ice dance) is THE discipline that most needs to be watched live and in person to be understood. Watching live, it's so much easier to separate the wheat from the chaff--one can easily tell which pair skates with speed and deep edges, gets that impressive ice coverage on their lifts, and so on. I have been fortunate to watch Savchenko/Szolkowy live, and I can personally attest to the quality of their skating. They are even more stunning to watch in person than on TV/computer, which is not something one can say about all pairs teams.

So without further ado, draw up a chair, grab the nearest glass of champagne, enjoy the following five extraordinary programs skated by Savchenko/Szolkowy, and drink a toast to this remarkable pair.

1) L'Oiseau
It's been about eight years since Savchenko/Szolkowy skated L'Oiseau, and I am still fascinated by this program, and the unsettled, slightly tense mood it sustains throughout.

2) Pina
The program that has inspired countless imitators (Konstantin Menshov, Jeremy Abbott, Maria Sotskova, among others) but none have surpassed the original, which ambitiously transplants the choreography of Pina Baush onto the ice. With its stunningly detailed choreography and its sheer breadth of vision, Pina is perhaps the magnum opus of Savchenko/Szolkowy's career together.

3) Pink Panther
A playful program done with aplomb after their (first) disappointing Olympic season. I would normally say that a Pink Panther concept would be too cloying for a long program, but Savchenko/Szolkowy make it work. Love the timing of their throw triple flip in this program!

4) Out of Africa
Proof that pairs chemistry does not necessarily need to be romantic to work.

5) The Mission
The program that converted many.

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