By Gina Capellazzi, website administrator
In Salt Lake City in 2002, she finished in 15th place for Ukraine with Stanislav Morozov.
In Torino in 2006, she finished in 6th with Robin Szolkowy for Germany. They earned the bronze medal in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014.
And finally now, in her fifth Olympics, Aliona Savchenko will be coming home from South Korea with the one thing she’s been missing throughout her magnificant career–Olympic gold.
In what was an exciting, yet nerve-wrecking pairs’ final, Savchenko and her partner Bruno Massot soared to the top of the podium to be crowned Olympic Champions at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, South Korea, edging out the reigning world champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Hon, of China, by just 0.43 points to win the first Olympic pairs’ skating gold for Germany in 66 years.
After a fourth place short program Wednesday where Massot doubled a planned triple salchow, Savchenko and Massot knew they had ground to make up and had to have a near perfect free skate for a chance at the gold. They delivered just that Thursday with a flawless free skate to “La terre vue du ciel”, which included a triple twist, side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe-double toe combination and side-by-side triple toe, throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow. Savchenko and Massot broke their own record for the free skate with a score of 159.31, which is a new world record for a pairs’ free skate.
“It is my moment. Today, I wrote history. This is what counts,” Savchenko said, following the event.
“We were on the ice for the gold medal and we didn’t give up,” Massot added. “It was hard for me yesterday, but Aljona was there for me. She said, ‘It is not finished. We still have the free program to come.’ We did a gold medal program, we broke the record. It is amazing to come from fourth to first, it is incredible,” he continued.
Savchenko teamed up with Massot in 2014, after her then-partner Szolkowy decided to retire. Massot, who at the time competed for France, was released by the French Figure Skating Federation in 2015 and the new pair made their debut that year at Tallinn Trophy, an ISU Challenger event where they won gold. However, it remained to be seen whether they would be able to compete at the 2018 Olympic games as Massot was not yet a German citizen. It wasn’t until November of last year when Massot became a German citizen, allowing them to be eligible to compete in PyeongChang.
After Savchenko and Massot’s stellar performance, China’s Sui and Han had to be perfect if they wanted to retain the top spot. With just a 5 point advantage over the Germans, there was no room for error. To open their program, Sui and Han nailed a quadruple twist, only the second team to nail the challenging element at the Olympics. They also completed a throw triple flip and salchow, but had issues with their side-by-side jumps as Han had singled the first double toe in a planned side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe combination and Sui had stepped out in the planned side-by-side triple Salchow. Sui and Han won the silver with a total score of 235.47, their first Olympic medal in their first Olympic games.
“I was quite nervous, this being my first Olympic Games. We really wanted to do well, but simply fell too short in the end. But I hope that this will give us the motivation we need over the next four years to do well again at the Beijing 2022 Games,” Sui noted.
Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who had won Olympic gold in the team event just a few days ago and silver in the team event in 2014, were still looking for that individual medal in what they said is their last Olympics. The two-time World champions made history in their free skate by becoming the first pair to land a clean throw quad jump in the Olympic Winter Games. Along with their throw quadruple Salchow, they nailed a throw triple Lutz and a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe-double combination. They finished in second in the free skate with a free skate score of 153.33, but finished in third place overall with a score of 230.16.
“This is better that anything we could have imagined. This competition, there were so many good pairs that anything could have happened. So for us to go out and lay it down, it meant so much to us,” Radford commented. “That was a better way to end, with an awesome long program. A bronze medal is more than I could ever have hoped for,” he shared.
Duhamel and Radford don’t plan to attend the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Milan, Italy next month and want to end their career at the Olympic Winter Games.
European Champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who were in second place after the short program, dropped to fourth after Tarasova doubled her side-by-side triple Salchow and missed the throw triple Salchow. The Russians, who were last to skate in Thursday’s event, received a total score of 224.93 points.
France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres finished in 5th place with a score of 218.53. The 2017 European bronze medalists brought back their “Sounds of Silence” free skate, which video of the program las season went viral online. Like Duhamel and Radford, they attempted a throw quad Salchow, but did not complete it cleanly as James landed on two feet as well as put her hand down. James also doubled her planned side-by-side triple Salchow. The mistakes sealed their chances of reaching the podium.
Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek, of Italy, had another great performance and finished in sixth place with a score of 216.59. The team had three clean programs over a span of four days as they skated their free skate in the team event for Italy Monday before competing in the individual event Wednesday and Thursday.
2018 Four Continents bronze medalists Tae Ok Ryom and Ju Sik Kim, of North Korea, turned out a personal best performance of 193.63 to finish their first Olympic games in 13th place.
Newly crowned Olympic bronze medalists in the team event, Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim made history in the pairs’ event, becoming the first U.S. pair to execute a quad twist on Olympic ice.
“The quad twist felt great,” said Knierim. “It was the highlight of our program, unfortunately. But it was nice that we got it out on Olympic ice. First Americans to do so, so that’s exciting.”
The two-time U.S. Champions scored 120.27 points in their free skate and a total score of 185.82, finishing the event in 15th place.
“Unfortunately, too many mistakes today,” Scimeca-Knierim said. “It was one of our lowest scores. I was sick last night and this morning with a normal stomach bug. I had asked Chris to kind of pick up the slack for me today because I knew I was going to be more fatigued, but then my adrenalin kicked in and I rose to the occasion. I think his fatigue might have set in because he was concerned for me.”
Following the skate, Scimeca-Knierim and Knierim said they had skated their program with the victims of the high school shooting that happened in Parkland, Florida Wednesday on their minds. A former student opened fire on his school, killing 17 people and injuring at least 15.
“We are so privileged and lucky to be doing what we are doing, but it’s so sad that 17 people died in the United States,” Scimeca-Knierim said. “I told Chris today that the world is so much bigger than us, and I’m disappointed with the way we performed today, but there are so many people hurting at home getting the news that their children have died. It’s been hard to finish with a more than disappointing skate, with a heavy heart for those who were lost today.”
The figure skating competition at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games continues on Friday, February 16 with the men’s short program (10a.m. Korea/8:00 p.m. EST Feb. 15).