The Olympics pairs free skate was supposed to be a showdown between the top two figure skating pairs in the world. It ended up with one team, Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, running away with it. Here's how and why that happened.
The Perfectionists Weren't That Perfect
Volosozhar and Trankhov biggest strength is actually a combination of their tricks and their mental toughness. They don't let big occasions get to them, and do their tricks consistently with an OCD-like precision. Skating to a number from Jesus Christ Superstar, we were expecting more of the same from them. But they actually bobbled one of their throws and Volosozhar actually touched the ice:
This was maybe the best-scored mistake of the night. Even though her hand touched the ice, it was still awarded a +.90 in its GOE. The rest of their program was very clean. Their triple twist lift was as exquisite as usual:
That skill gave them a whopping +2.1 Grade of Execution. That means they got 8.30 points instead of the 6.20 points that the skill is usually worth. They also performed a cleaner, more massive throw later in their program:
They finished with the total of score of 236.86 points — just a few short of their world record.
The "Other" Russians Did Well Too
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov have had to go through plenty of competitions in the shadow of Volosozhar and Trankhov. The situation would not be unlike if James Harden and Kobe Bryant were on the same team. Stolbova and Klimov are good, like top five in the world good, but they aren't Volosozhar and Trankhov. On Wednesday night, they showed that they should be taken seriously after deliver clean throws and tricks one after another. Like this throw:
And this combination jump sequence:
Stolbova and Klimov were about four points out of second place with a 75.21 in their short program, and scored a whopping 72.27 in their technical elements score. That brought their total to 218.68 points.
The Germans Didn't Excite or Execute
The Germans, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, were facing a ton of pressure from all sides. Going into the free skate, Savchenko and Szolkowy were carrying a short program score of 79.64 and were considered the only team that could beat Volosozhar and Trankov. In order to beat Volosozhar-Trankov, Savchenko-Szolkowy would have needed a free skate score of 157.23 — a huge record-setting score. And to beat the other Russian pair, Stolbova and Klimov, they would need to skate a clean program and garner at least 139.05.
The Germans were the final team to skate, and they crumbled under the pressure. Szolkowy fumbled during the pair's combination jumping pass:
Skating expert Dave Lease told us that Savchenko is a fiery competitor and doesn't like losing. "If her partner misses, he will see her for his life afterward," Lease told us prior to their free skate. We do not envy her partner. They had another fall on their biggest trick in their program, their throw triple axel:
The Germans knew they skated pretty poorly. They didn't even want to sit next to each other. It was very awkward for the nutcracker in the middle (they skate to music from The Nutcracker):
The four-time world champions finished a disappointing (for their standards) third with 215.68 points.