The proof is in the pants. Clad in audaciously golden trousers (which have spawned their own Twitter account), Maxim Trankov and partner Tatiana Volosozhar put on a rock-solid performance on Wednesday to take home the gold in the pairs skating event.
No other athlete or team in the Games so far has shown similar tenacity under so much pressure.
The duo showed premonitions of greatness last Thursday, performing in the short program portion of the team figure skating event, in which Russia took home the gold. Trankov and Volosozhar put up a score of 83.79 to earn their team 10 points in the early rounds.
When the pairs event began, the duo maintained their momentum. In the short program on Tuesday, Trankov and Volosozhar earned a world-record 84.17 points for their routine, danced to “Masquerade Waltz.”
(Click here for NBC’s replay of the pair’s performance in Sochi)
The pair skated an energized, airtight program, nailing their opening high triple twist throw (one minute, 15 seconds in) side-by-side triple toeloops (1:30) and triple throw (1:50), with their world-record score giving them a commanding five-point lead heading into the free skate.
(Click here for NBC’s replay of the Russians' free program in Sochi and Trankov’s emotional reaction)
With the title theirs for the taking on Wednesday, Trankov and Volosozhar performed solidly, if not perfectly, to get the job done. The triple throw in the final minute (4:06) of their free program, skated to “Jesus Christ Superstar,” is a particularly tricky combination, and the pair nailed it.
As tempting as a flashy performance would have been, and as exciting as it would have been to witness, the pair's low-risk skate showed maturity and poise on the biggest stage.
Their only mistake came after Volosozhar dropped her right hand to the ice momentarily after a throw triple Salchow, the throw performed at 3:35 in the above footage (though she landed it at the NHK).
The numbers don’t lie on Trankov and Volosozhar’s performance. The pair led by five points after a nearly perfect short program and after a solid, if not flawless 152.69-point performance in the free skate, the rest of the field was left to fight for second.
“To be honest, I was crying because I felt so many emotions,” Volosozhar told Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star afterwards. “I’m still nervous and shaking but I’m also so happy.”
Compatriots Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov also skated an impressive free program, earning them 143.47 points to move into the silver medal position, but the pair still finished 18 points behind Trankov and Volosozhar.
The main challengers heading into the event for Trankov and Volosozhar were Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, 2010 bronze medalists and four-time World Champions who defeated Trankov and Volosozhar at the Grand Prix Final two months ago.
While Trankov and Volosozhar maintained their composure under the scrutinizing gaze of the Russian crowd, the Germans failed to rise to the occasion. Both Savchenko and Szolkowy fell at different points in the program, though they still took home the bronze.
But the night belonged to Trankov and Volosozhar, who delivered under enormous pressure skating in front of their home crowd and attempting to reassert Russia’s dominance in the event. Russia (and formerly the Soviet Union) won gold in the event for 12 straight Olympics until China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo triumphed in Vancouver, and the Russians failed to get a single team on the podium
Trankov said after the match, as reported by Rachel Cohen of the Associated Press:
To win it here is more special than anything, But there was pressure. We were nervous, very nervous. It was huge for us to skate in front of this audience in our country, but it was hard, and to do this make us very happy now.
Though both Trankov and Volosozhar have been to Olympics before, this was the pair’s first appearance together at the Games, who seemed to have found the winning formula in each other. Trankov finished eight in Vancouver partnering with Maria Mukhortova while Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov finished one place behind.
Trankov and Volosozhar become the first pair skaters to win in their home country since 1936, and because of the introduction of the team event, the first pairs skating team to take home two gold medals in a single Olympics.