Revitalized Russian Figure Skating Thriving at Perfect Time in 2014 Olympics

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Revitalized Russian Figure Skating Thriving at Perfect Time in 2014 Olympics
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming...back, that is.

Back to the top of the Olympics figure skating world they love so much. And so far in these Sochi Olympics, they are dominating.

In Tuesday's pairs short program, Russians finished first and third.

They've been able to carry the momentum from winning the first-ever team figure skating event, which was spearheaded by a 15-year-old, Julia Lipnitskaia.

31-year-old Evgeni Plushenko, despite a sore back, won his third career gold medal, and announced he will participate in the individual event after much speculation that he might end his career after being part of the team event.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

But the spotlight shifted to pairs short program leaders Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov Tuesday. They skated with race-car speed and completed complicated lifts that seemed to require a navigation system to keep track of who went where to lead the pairs with a personal-best score of 84.17. 

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany were second with a score of 79.64. They were followed by another Russian team, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who were third with a 75.21.

No Russian woman has ever won gold in singles, but Lipnitskaia seems to have a chance to end that streak. 

How does someone so young handle the pressure of an entire nation now that she has suddenly become a world-wide star?

There has been some criticism of Plushenko's scores in the short program, but favorable home-country judging has always seemed to be part of this sport. Plushenko seemed to do more standing than skating at some points, but never underestimate the effect of standing ovations on the judges.

Volosozhar and Trankov, however, received no gifts. Each element they performed was precise and confident.

Anyone who remembers what happened to the Chinese pair of Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao in Turin can appreciate the ease with which the leading Russians did their lifts and throws.

This matters for those who remember the 2006 Games, when the Chinese pair tried an unprecedented quadruple throwDan landed on her face, briefly lost consciousness and slid across the ice as if she was a rag doll until she was stopped by the boards. These moves are not as easy as the Russians made them look. 

Speaking to the media in Sochi through a translator, Trankov said that he had felt embarrassed by his country's pairs performance four years ago, when no Russian pair medaled for the first time since 1960. Four years later, Trankov said, all the top Russian skaters in every discipline are more prepared for the Olympics.

Trankov said Russia had lost many good coaches after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In fact, Russians even coach the two leading ice dance teamsCharlie White and Meryl Davis of the United States and Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue of Canada.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

"Yes," Trankov said. "We did lose some good people in the transition our country had, but things are getting better, and we all wanted to be prepared for these Olympics that are happening in front of our own fans. We want to show everyone Russian skating is here to stay."

Pairs from Russia or the Soviet Union had won gold in 12 straight Olympics before the streak ended four years ago.

That seems unlikely to happen again this year. 

The runner-up Germans were also strong with their jumps, though they weren't quite as synchronized as the Russian leaders. 

But after the team competition and this pairs short program performance, it certainly appears as if Trankov and the rest of the Russian skaters will not have to worry about being embarrassed.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes are taken from audio transmitted from Sochi. 

Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered seven Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin.

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