China’s Pang-Tong win world pairs title, silver to Germany’s Savchenko-Szolkowy

By Colleen Barry, AP
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pang-Tong win world pairs title

TURIN, Italy — Pang Qing and Tong Jian have a world title to go with their Olympic silver medal.

Runners-up at the Vancouver Olympics last month, Pang and Tong easily won their second title Wednesday at the World Figure Skating Championships. The Chinese pair finished with 211.39 points, more than six points ahead of two-time defending world champs Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

“For us, it’s the impossible dream because … there are so few people who can be here in the rink for such high-level competition. Skating at this level is our dream, the big dream,” Tong said.

Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, second after the short program, settled for a second straight bronze after she fell on their throw quadruple salchow — the hardest element attempted by any of the pairs.

Coming so soon after the games, the world championships in an Olympic year tend to feature watered-down fields. When Pang and Tong won their first title, in 2006, the runner-ups were the only Turin medalists to compete.

But this was no gimme. Though Olympic champions Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo weren’t here, all of the other big names were.

Bronze medalists Savchenko and Szolkowy, in third after the short program, skated second-to last and put up quite a challenge. Their “Out of Africa” routine was emotional and well-executed.

Though she doubled one of the jumps in their opening combination, Savchenko and Szolkowy more than made up for it with a spectacular spiral sequence. They ended the program with a punch, landing a throw triple salchow.

“It was a long season, a hard season. We did good programs, bad programs,” Szolkowy said. “Now the last program was a good program. That is important for us, for our future.”

The Germans have already said they have their sights set on the next Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Pang and Tong weren’t perfect; she doubled one of their side-by-side jumps. But the rest of the program was clean and athletic and, with their lead after the short program, good enough for gold.

U.S. champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett were seventh while Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig finished ninth.

Earlier Wednesday, Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi took the lead in the men’s competition, dazzling the judges with huge jumps and speedy steps in his short program. Canada’s Patrick Chan was second with a clean, well-polished tango, followed by France’s Brian Joubert, who rebounded from a disappointing Olympics with an impressive routine that started with a quad-triple combination.

“I did a good performance, even if I did not skate as fast as I could,” said Takahashi, who scored 89.30 points. “I know that I can also do better.”

U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott is sixth and two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon is seventh. The top two Americans need to finish with a combined placement of 13 or better — sixth and seventh, for example — to secure three spots at next year’s worlds.

“I wanted to come here and take a different approach than I did at the Olympics,” said Abbott, who was a dismal 15th in the short program in Vancouver. “I wasn’t focusing on the outcome or the placement. The goal was to just take each element one at a time. I really allowed myself to have fun with the program.”

Olympic champion Evan Lysacek isn’t competing at worlds, and neither is silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko. That makes Takahashi the favorite, and he delivered. He’s more than a point in front of Chan (87.80) and Joubert (87.70) going into Thursday’s free skate.

The results showed again that the quad is not king in men’s figure skating. Despite the point-boosting quad-triple, Joubert was not able to overcome Takahashi’s more intricate and energetic step sequences. In fact, Joubert’s technical score was only half a point ahead of Takahashi’s and Chan’s — neither of whom attempted the four-revolution jump.

Takahashi said he was still deciding whether to put a quad into his free program. He tried one in Vancouver and fell.

Joubert, the 2007 world champion, was expected to be a medal contender in Vancouver. Instead, he was so bad he didn’t even make the final warm-up, and he clearly wanted to erase those memories here.

His joy grew with each element that he completed cleanly: a quad toe loop-triple toe combination, followed by a fist punch; tight triple lutz, another fist; then a textbook triple lutz. Joubert seemed so sure of his victory that he punched the air toward his coach when preparing for a step sequence.

“A lot of people said bad things about me” after Vancouver, Joubert said. “I want to show people I am not finished.”

Chan, too, said he had something to prove at the worlds. The reigning world silver medalist was fifth in Vancouver, an experience he said gave him peace of mind at the worlds.

“If you can handle the Olympics, you can handle almost anything,” Chan said. “I think it really, really helped today in the short program.”

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