Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 World Figure Skating Championships: Pairs Preview

 Here we are again, can you believe the figure skating season is nearly over already?  But before the season ends, we get the best event of the year, Worlds. Pairs will certainly be an interesting event. Three teams dominated the senior Grand Prix, but we have a set of former World Champs from China returning, as well as a pair of Chinese youngsters making their senior Worlds debut. Aside from who will medal, another interesting storyline is if the teams from the USA and Canada can come together and secure their country a third spot at the pre-Olympic Worlds in 2013. The pairs skate their Short Program Wednesday March 28th at 8:00 am EST and their Free Skate on Friday March 30th at 2:30 pm EST.

Podium Predictions
1) Savchenko & Szolkowy (GER)
2) Volosozhar & Trankov (RUS)
3) Kavaguti & Smirnov (RUS)

Top Contenders

Savchenko & Szoklowy (GER) had an up and down season by their standards, winning Gold at Skate America, Cup of Russia, and the Grand Prix Final, Bronze at NHK Trophy, and withdrawing from Europeans due to injury. I think they easily have the finest pairs programs of the season, their Pina free skate is so artistic and contemporary; nothing else holds a candle to it. I’m picking them to win their second consecutive and fourth overall World title.

Volosozhar & Trankov (RUS) were the other dominant pair this season. They won Skate Canada, Trophee Eric Bompard, and Europeans. They won Silver behind the Germans at the Grand Prix Final and they too with drew this season due to injury, but it was from Russian Nationals. They have impressive technical elements and outstanding chemistry, but I prefer the polish of the Germans to the flash and athleticism of the Russians.

Kavaguti & Smirnov (RUS) also took two Golds on the Grand Prix, at Cup of China and NHK Trophy. They picked up a Silver at Cup of Russia and a Bronze at the Grand Prix Final. Continuing the theme, they also struggled with injury and withdrew from Europeans and Russian Nationals. They have two very diverse programs, a passionate edgy short, and a lyrical long to Claire de Lune. They missed the World podium last year after a fall, but I think they’ll find their way back there if they go clean.

Pang & Tong (CHN) will be a curious case to say the least. They were fantastic last season and finished it off with a Bronze at Worlds, but we haven’t seen them since then. They planned to take time off to rest and get married, but they found they loved skating too much to take a full year off. China needs them too, they only have two slots for pairs this season, a travesty by their standards, so they’ll look to help get that third spot back. They are a beautiful team and that is what they exploit in their programs, but I’d love to see them take a risk and try something with an edge to it. That may be what they need to challenge the top three at this point.

In The Hunt

Sui & Han (CHN) appeared to be in a bit of a sophomore slump, and by that I mean they didn’t make the Grand Prix Final as they did in their debut season, but they came back with a big time win at Four Continents. Their attempt at maturity in their new Tango free skate was all but laughable at the beginning of the season, but now they are really starting to to grow into it. Expect them to make a huge splash in their senior Worlds debut.

Bazarova & Larionov (RUS) are an elegant team with beautiful lines, but unfortunately that's about all they're offering this season. They haven't upped their technical game and they've been less than consistent. They are normally a shoe in for the Grand Prix Final, but a poor showing at Skate America knocked them out of the running. 

Denney & Coughlin (USA) are the hot new American team, but unfortunately they are still an American team and that usually means choking at Worlds. They have pretty impressive elements, but they are packaged as athletes,  not as artists, and than needs to change next season if they expect to compete with the best teams in the World.

Duhamel & Radford (CAN) were fantastic on the Grand Prix and even qualified for the final. They easily won their Nationals with what looked like the performance of a lifetime, but it seems they may have peaked too soon. 

Takahashi &Tran (JPN) have been all over the place this season, placing fourth and second at their Grand Prix events and qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. They can be described in four words: beautiful lines, inconsistent elements. Narumi just seems to have no self-confidence in the throws and jumps and that needs to be addressed before they can reach their full potential.

Berton & Hotarek (ITA) stepped up their International game this season, finishing 4th and 3rd in their Grand Prix assignments and fourth at Europeans. I don't love their look on the ice, but the judges clearly appreciate their elements. They've been pretty consistent this season and if they stay that way, they can finish well.

Marley & Brubaker (USA) are attending their first Worlds, though Rockne was here with a previous partner. If Mary Beth can block out the pressure of the World stage, they have a good shot at making a splash. They won Silver at Nationals and their first International medal in Bronze at Four Continents so they are well on their way if they stay clean and consistent. They can't afford any mistakes though, because no judges will give a relatively new team the benefit of the doubt.

Dube & Wolfe (CHN) are in a similar situation to Marley & Brubaker. She has a lot of Worlds experience but he has none. They got better at every event this season and finished a surprise 2nd at Canadians to earn a spot on the World team over some more experienced teams. They won't challenged for a medal as Dube did with Davison, but they can earn some International judges' favor if they are clean.

The Rest Of The Field

Martini & Kiefer (AUT)
Bakirova & Kamianchuk (BLR)
Makarova & Kenchadze (BUL)
Ri & Thae (PRK)
James & Cipres (FRA)
Hausch &Wende (GER)
Vartmann & Van Cleave (GER)
Kemp & King (GBR)
Montalbano & Krasnopolski (ISR)
Della Monica & Guarise (ITA)
Morand & Leemann (SUI)

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