Russian figure skaters outshining the Olympic field

Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov perform in the figure skating pairs short program...

Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov perform in the figure skating pairs short program during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 11, 2014. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

Steve Buffery, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:11 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - The Russian figure skating federation must have called upon their country’s space program to help prepare for these Olympics, because their skaters have been out of this world.

Again, rumours last week that they made some kind of underhanded deal with the Americans to prop up each other’s scores seem to be a load of hogwash. From last weekend’s team event — where they won the gold medal — to Tuesday’s pairs short program, the Russians have dominated at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

Not that Canada, or any of the other skating powers, have underperformed. They’ve just been outclassed.

Evgeni Plushenko and Yulia Lipnitskaya set the tone in the men’s and women’s singles team event, and Russia’s top pairs teams continued that excellence Tuesday. The home skaters have set the bar incredibly high and everyone else is having trouble keeping up.

As expected, defending world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov finished first in Tuesday’s pairs short. Skating to the haunting Masquerade Waltz in front of an adoring crowd, Volosozhar and Trankov set a world short program record of 84.17 points. In second heading into Wednesday’s long program are former world champs Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany (79.64).

But instead of one of the Canadian teams taking third, as hoped, it was the second Russian team of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (75.21). Both Russian teams received standing ovations when their programs ended. They’ve used the energy of the crowd, while trying not to get lost in the moment.

“It was a hard skate,” said the 30-year-old Trankov. “I was quite nervous and there were moments when things seemed easy and I thought I was just flying, but I had to contain myself and focus on the elements since it happened before that the emotions took over and we made mistakes.”

Canada’s top team, the St. Leonard, Quebec-based duo of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, bronze medallists at least year’s worlds, placed fifth after making a couple of mistakes in their short. Radford, a native of Balmertown, Ont. was shaky on his triple lutz while Duhamel, of Lively, Ont., missed a step in her footwork. The pair earned a score of 72.21.

In sixth is the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club duo of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Mosovitch, who recorded a mark of 70.92 skating to a “quirky” number entitled Micmacs. They finished fourth at last year’s worlds and Skate Canada was hoping that at least one of the teams would take the bronze.

The good news is they’re both within striking distance of a medal but the way the Russians are skating, and the fact that the Germans are perennial medallists, Duhamel and Radford and Moore-Towers and Moscovitch will need to have the skate of their lives Wednesday to reach the podium.

Duhamel and Radford skated right after Stolbova and Klimov and had to begin their program with the Iceberg crowd still cheering them on.

“With the Russians having such a great skate and putting such a great score up, it was probably the most challenging skate we’ve had in terms of trying to keep our focus between us and not letting the really loud crowd get into our heads,” said Radford.

Added Duhamel: “That was really tough situation. It sounded like we were stepping on the ice in the middle of a Montreal Canadiens hockey game.”

Radford then finished the sentence: “After they scored a goal,” he said.

Not that they were complaining about the atmosphere. The Canadian teams said the team competition prepared them for the exuberance of the Russian crowds.

“As much as they are very patriotic, as you would expect, they’re very supportive of all the skaters and they know what’s good and they know what’s not, and it’s always great to skate in front of a crowd like that,” said Moscovitch.

Canada’s third team, Paige Lawrence of Rudi Swiegers, who train out of Wawota, MB, are 13th heading into Wednesday’s free.

UKRANIAN FLAVOUR

The Ukrainian team entered in Tuesday night’s pairs short competition finished dead-last in 20th place. But barring an upset in Wednesday’s freeskate, Ukrainian skating fans will be able to take some pride in the gold and silver medal winning performances in the pairs event.

In first place heading into the long program is the Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. The 30-year-old Volosozhar was born in Dnipropetrovsk in the former Soviet Union, which is now part of the Ukraine. She competed for Ukraine at 2010 Vancouver Olympics but then switched to represent Russia, being eligible for Russian citizenship as both her parents were born in Russia.

In second after the short, and expected to hold on for the silver, is the German team of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. Savchenko was born in Ukraine moved to Germany in 2003, receiving her citizenship in 2006.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

twitter @beezersun

Click to enlarge and open in new window

Photos