My series of event previews continues with the Pairs event for the European Championships in Tallinn. This is one of the less dense fields in Tallinn. It's clear who the top teams will likely be, we'll just have to see how they finish. There are five teams to watch:
Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov - The Ukranian duo has been stuck in perpetual mediocrity for some time now. They are consistent enough to usually place amongst the top contenders but never good enough, it seems, to break through to the top. They just don't seem to have the same spark as their training mates Savchenko and Szolkowy. If they have any aspirations of making it to the podium at either this event or the Olympics they are going to need some more 'get-up in their gusto.' Without it, they're doomed to finish 4th-5th-6th ish. They did alright on the Grand Prix, placing 3rd at Samsung Anycall Cup of China and backing into a silver medal (after some terrible free skates) at Cancer.Net Skate America. Better days ahead?
Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov - This team has been skating very consistent this season. While they did not win Russian Nationals, they've looked good on the Grand Prix. This team is known for, in the past, really not liking one another. But ugly stares, cold shoulders, and quick exits from the Kiss and Cry have been replaced with warm hugs, kisses, and high fives. Whatever they are doing to improve the relationship, it's working. In three Grand Prix outings (Eric Bompard Trophee, HomeSense Skate Canada, Grand Prix Final) they've had near clean free skates. They managed to win in Paris, a silver at Skate Canada, and beat their main Russian competition at the Grand Prix Final. Russian Pairs have a legacy to hold up as far as the Olympics are concerned and this team looks like they're willing to do their part.
Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov - This young Russian team has pushed through to take that pivotal third Olympic berth. While they don't have a lot of experience they've shown an ability to be pretty consistent under pressure. The 2007 Junior World Silver Medalists have only ever competed in two Senior Grand Prix events. In their first senior event, they won the bronze medal (2007 Skate America) and was 4th at this seasons' Rostelecom Cup. Again, Russian teams, no matter how experienced, have a way of being 'on' in Olympic seasons. This team has the added advantage of not having to live up to the expectations the other Russian teams have and can 'go for broke.' This event is their debut at a major Senior ISU Championship and it comes literally just days before the Olympics...heavy stuff.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov - The third part of the Russian powerhouse, this team is teetering on greatness. As with all Tamara Moskvina teams, this team exudes an originality and lightness that none of the other teams posses. Their route to greatness has been hindered, however, with little ill timed mistakes and minor glitches. Such issues kept them off the podium at the Grand Prix Final. We all know Tamara Moskvina teams have a way of just 'getting it done' at the Olympics but time is waning. I know they have the ability to be the best, but they have yet to prove they can deliver it when it really counts. Coming to Europeans as the Russian Champs should be a confidence booster as should silver medals from both their Grand Prix Events in Russia and Japan.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy - Quite the up and down year for this team who attempt to defend their European crown. A dismal beginning to their season after a poor free skate in Paris sent them back to the drawing board on their free skate. They showed up at HomeSense Skate Canada a brand new team with a brand new free skate (Out of Africa) that sent chills through my spine. They not only re-established themselves as the team to beat, but set a new record score in the process nabbing some perfect 10s (although several were handed out at the event) for their components. The roller coaster continued when problems hit again at the Grand Prix Final and they had to settle for a bronze and watch their new record score fall to Shen and Zhao (the Chinese bettered it by nearly 8 points). European's offer Savchenko and Szolkowy the opportunity to reapply some pressure on the Chinese team of Shen and Zhao who are now seen as the favorites heading into Vancouver. Aliona and Robin need to make the judges believe they have as much a chance as the others or they'll lose the expectations race. When done perfectly, I believe Savchenko and Szolkowy have the superior program (by just a smidgen) and it will take perfection, I think, to win the Olympics this time.