The Pairs are the first to hit Olympic ice a week from tomorrow, on Valentines Day actually. There are nine teams that each bring unique aspects to this competition. Experience, ingenuity, consistency, athleticism, beauty, and fearlessness are some of the many things we can look forward to in the Pairs competition.
Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett (USA) - Many, in fact probably most, don't expect this extremely young and inexperienced team to be a podium threat...but I think they are. The reigning U.S. Champs have three things working in their favor; their ridiculous consistency, the fact they are fearless in competition, and they have nothing to lose by going for broke. That's a recipe for success if you ask me. The one thing that will hamper them is the fact that they don't have the little details such as toe-point, line, extension, etc. mastered. At U.S. Nationals Sandra Bezic made the comment, "There's no box for magic" when discussing the scoring system. This team may knock the socks off of everyone and find themselves still playing catch-up. I hope this isn't the case.
Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison (CAN) - This team will enjoy the support of the crowd as they are Canada's best hope at a medal in this event. The 2008 World Bronze Medalists have had trouble living up to their potential. They failed to make the Grand Prix Final this season. But at this year's Canadian Nationals they turned in a stellar free skate that left everyone, myself included, speechless. When this team is 'in the zone' they are stellar. If they can recreate that magic again in Vancouver and couple it with a clean short program, this team will not only be in the hunt for a medal, it will be for Gold.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (RUS) - History is on this teams' side. When was the last time a Russian or Soviet Team wasn't on the Olympic podium in Pairs Figure Skating? 1960. And since then, a Russian or Soviet team has won every single time (they did have to share in 2002). Four of those Olympic Champions were coached by Tamara Moskvina. Sound familiar? Yuko and Alexander also just won the European Title, desperately close to cracking the highest score ever..even with some little mistakes. This team brings ingenuity and cleverness to the ice coupled with infectious personality and charisma. If this team is 100% clean...I believe the Russian legacy of Pairs Figure Skating Champions will live on.
Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov (RUS) - This team is the Russian Yen to Kavaguti and Smirnov's Yang. They bring a more traditional Russian style to the ice than their teammates. This team has also been very consistent this season, taking medals in almost everything they've entered (the Grand Prix Final was the lone hiccup where they finished 4th despite a near clean performance). What this team doesn't seem to have is that extra bit of 'pizazz' that really gets the judges behind them. They've had good luck this season against some tough teams so if they can continue to be consistent they may sneak onto the podium. Hitting every element and finding a way to make their performance more transformative will be key.
Qing Pang and Jian Tong (CHN) - Part one of the Chinese juggernaut, this team has looked solid this season. Easy wins on the Grand Prix and a very solid Silver at the Grand Prix Final has them in position to be one of the main challengers for a medal, if not Gold, in Vancouver. With loads of Olympic experience to fall back on, this team will know exactly what to expect out there. Their Man of La Mancha free skate has been very well received this season. Like Mukhortova and Trankov, their biggest set back is their sometime lack of extra spunk to set them apart. If they are clean, they'll make a great case for the podium.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER) - Along with the Chinese, these two are seen as one of the road blocks in the way of continued Russian domination of Pairs Figure Skating. The reigning World Champions have had the oddest season however. They looked out of sorts in Paris at the Grand Prix Opener winning only a bronze. They went back to the drawing board and created, I think, the most gorgeous Pairs Free Skate...ever (I know that is a big claim but it's how I feel!). They blew the competition away at HomeSense Skate Canada and set a new high score for Pairs Figure Skating. They then watched that score fall at the Grand Prix Final where their problems (and the Bronze Medal) returned. They were still not fully with it at Europeans when they lost to Kavaguti and Smirnov. What does all this mean? It means they need to get their heads together or they are going to miss their shot at Olympic Gold. They have the vehicle to win this, they just need to bring their 'A' game.
Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (CHN) - The veteran team comes to Vancouver looking for the Olympic Gold that has twice eluded them. When it comes to experience this team has more than any other as they prepare to compete in their 4th Olympics (Nagano, Salt Lake City, Torino, Vancouver). Part two of the Chinese juggernaut, they are the sentimental favorites and could be the team to put an end to Russian domination of this sport. At 31 and 36 respectively, it seems unfathomable that they recently nabbed the highest score ever for a pairs team at the Grand Prix Final. Even as two of the oldest competitors, they are solid as a rock technically. They are also two of the most expressive skaters on the ice. If these two win I don't think anyone would be upset and should they lose many will be heartbroken.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov (UKR) - I've said it plenty of times before and I'll say it again...this team is stuck in the zone of mediocrity. They are generally good enough to mention them here as medal contenders, but often find themselves pulling in for 4th, 5th, or 6th place. They didn't help their case at Europeans when they finished off the podium in 4th. Their free skate set to Pearl Harbor seems to labor on and on and you just wish it would end. Despite these shortcomings, they know how to construct a program to earn points and should other teams falter they might back into a medal...but I'm not holding my breath.
Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (CHN) - Part three of the extremely powerful Chinese team, they actually have the best Olympic credentials of the three teams having won Silver in Torino. This season, however, they have been completely overshadowed by their teammates and have had really lack luster performances. Just last week in Korea, however, they put the train back on the tracks at the Four Continents Cup to win the title with two very solid performances. They didn't have to compete with their teammates in Korea and that might have given them the breathing room they needed to succeed. Trouble is, they aren't afforded that breathing room in Vancouver. Team China is exactly the same as it was in Torino yet completely different outcomes are expected of the three teams. What a difference four years makes!