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Savchenko, Szolkowy win pairs title at worlds

By Jerome Pugmire

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 30 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany perform their Pairs Free skating at the ISU 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, southern France, Friday, March 30, 2012.

Francois Mori, Associated Press

NICE, France — Defending champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won the world figure skating pairs title for the fourth time Friday despite a soaring performance by Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia.

Savchenko and Szolkowy skated smoothly in the free skate to protect their lead from Wednesday's short program, but they were pushed all the way. They again defeated their Russian rivals, winning 201.49 to 201.38. Volosozhar and Trankov, last year's runner-up, surged from eighth place in the short program to finish with a silver medal.

"They skated really well, but we did enough," Szolkowy said. "As they showed, it's never over. Even if you think it's finished you can still make up a lot if you put together a strong fighting program. Today we were lucky."

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan took the bronze at 189.69. For the U.S., Caydee Denney and John Coughlin were eighth and Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker were 10th.

Earlier, Patrick Chan of Canada overcame some wobbly footwork to capture the men's short program. He is trying to become the first man to win back-to-back world titles since the now retired Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland in 2006.

"I don't think about that so much, but about defending it for myself," Chan said. "I've been watching videos of world championships last year in Moscow and world championships this year. There was a big improvement in my eye, I see a lot of improvement artistically."

Savchenko and Szolkowy have been working on a throw triple axel, but left it out of their program again, just as they did at the Grand Prix final in December when they beat the Russians by 0.18 points.

After Savchenko nailed her landing on the throw triple flip, their confidence grew and the crowd at the Palais des Expositions clapped along. The last throw, a triple salchow, was impeccable. As Savchenko afforded herself a smile, Szolkowy punched the air.

The Russians had earlier appiled the pressure with a dynamic, inventive show. They made no errors, with Trankov's boundless energy driving the routine. They could not contain their joy at the end, knowing they had proved a point after a disastrous short. Trankov clenched his fist, then raised his finger to make a No. 1 sign before the grinning pair hugged several times.

Takahashi, meanwhile, jumped up and down when the scores confirmed a bronze medal, and then flew into the arms of her coach.

Two-time former world champions Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China had been second after the short but Tong fell on the first segment on a triple toeloop and Pang almost fell on the throw triple loop. Bronze medalists last year, they finished fourth this time.

Chan, meanwhile, stayed on his feet and on course to keep his title even though he almost tumbled backward onto the ice. He had successfully completed his four jumps when he was suddenly betrayed by his usually sure footwork coming out of a camel spin, twice swaying back before regaining his balance in time.

"I was kind of upset at myself for not keeping it together," Chan said. "The expression on my face was priceless."

But he had done enough with cleanly executed jumps to secure a season's best score of 89.41 points heading into Saturday's free skate.

Czech skater Michal Brezina, celebrating his 22nd birthday, was second with 87.67, followed by Japan's Daisuke Takahashi on 85.72. For the Americans, Jeremy Abbott was ninth and Adam Rippon 10th.

"I've never been more prepared for a competition," Abbott said. "I really believed in my heart of hearts that this was my moment."

Frenchman Brian Joubert thrilled the home crowd to take the early lead thanks to a huge score of 14.40 on his quad toe loop-triple toe loop element. Joubert, a three-time runner-up, pumped his fist as he received a roar of approval. But the 2007 world champion dropped to fourth overall at 83.47.

Chan, skating after Joubert's group, had a slightly heavy landing on his quad toe loop, choosing not to follow through with a triple toe loop combination. But he later compensated for that by adding a triple toe loop to a beautifully crisp triple lutz on his final jump. Then, he unexpectedly lost his balance — twice arching backward coming out of the camel spin into a bracket turn.

Chan admitted afterward he had choreographed a move in training with coach Christy Krall to make it look as if he were falling over to get the crowd more involved.

"We wanted to make it look like I'm losing my balance," a relieved Chan said. "But this time I actually fooled myself."

Krall made light of what could have ended up being an awkward mistake.

"I think he needs a figure lesson," Krall said, jokingly. "Back to the brackets."

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