Chan, Germans win world titles in record fashion

Posted April 28, 2011, at 7:23 p.m.

MOSCOW — Elegant and athletic, Patrick Chan won his first world figure skating title in record fashion at an event many feared wouldn’t happen.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were far more whimsical, but no less mesmerizing in the pairs competition.

Chan and the German pair each set world records for the free skate and total points Thursday as they claimed titles at the world figure skating championships. Chan claimed the title a day after he set a new mark for the short program. His total score of 280.98 points smashed the previous record of 264.41, set in 2008 by last year’s world champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan.

“I hoped I could get 300,” Chan said, joking. “Maybe next time.”

Japanese national champion Takahiko Kozuka won the men’s silver medal. Russia’s Artur Gachinski took bronze in his first appearance at the world championships.

Savchenko and Szolkowy scored 217.85 points for their playful “Pink Panther” program, topping the previous mark of 216.57 points set last year at the Vancouver Olympics by gold medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo. It was the third title for the Germans, and their fifth world medal in as many years.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia won silver. Defending champions Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China, who had the overnight lead, dropped to bronze.

U.S. champions Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin were sixth, the highest finish for an American pair in a non-Olympic year since 1997. The U.S. won medals in 2002 and 1998, but fields tend to be watered down at post-Olympic world championships.

“The long today was everything we were hoping it would be, kind of a farewell to this very emotional piece and a farewell to this chapter for us,” said Coughlin, whose mother’s death last year was the inspiration for their “Ave Maria” program. “Your first national title is something you will never experience again and we wanted to savor this and send it out the right way. I’ll be grateful to everyone forever for this program.”

The U.S. men didn’t fare quite as well, losing one of their spots for next year’s worlds because the top two finishers had a combined placement greater than 13. Richard Dornbush, who won the junior Grand Prix title in December, was ninth and Ross Miner was 11th. U.S. champion Ryan Bradley 13th.

Chan was the heavy favorite after a commanding victory at the Grand Prix final, and his two days of elegance and athleticism made for a dramatic opening to a world championships that many had worried wouldn’t even happen. The event was supposed to take place in Tokyo in March, but was hastily moved to Moscow in the wake of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing nuclear crisis.

Chan’s free skate wasn’t the spot-on marvel of his short program. He stepped out on a triple axel and had to fight to hold onto the landing of his opening quad, forcing him to tack the second jump of his planned combination, a triple toe loop, onto his next quad.

He refused to play it safe despite having a formidable lead of almost 12 points after the short program.

“I didn’t change my program, which is very important to me,” said Chan, the silver medalist at the previous two world championships. “I did have some doubts in my mind if I should, but I said ‘No, no, no,’ because I’ve been training this program all season long since nationals. I’m very proud of myself to be able to do two quads in the opening of the program.”

Aside from his impressive technique of clean landings and tight spins, Chan’s artistry was notable. Skating to “Phantasia” by Andrew Lloyd Weber, his dignified moves matched the music’s expressiveness without crossing into melodrama.

Chan scored 187.96 for the free skate to top the previous mark of 175.84, also set by Takahashi in 2008.

Kozuka, who won the qualifying round Monday, went for more intensity in his program to a Lizst piano concerto. He exceeded Chan by more than two points on technical elements, which included a solid opening quad and a triple-double-double cascade. But he was more than nine points behind on program components, the so-called artistic elements in the program.

“Looking back on the whole of my season, thinking about all the training I have accumulated I told myself that I did quite a lot,” Kozuka said. “So, I went there and put all my experience to it and the result came.”

Gachinski’s medal thrilled the Russian fans — and gives the country a boost as it prepares for the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Russia failed to win a single figure skating gold at last year’s Vancouver Olympics. This was the first world medal by a Russian man since Evgeni Plushenko won the last of his three world titles in 2004.

Gachinski’s rapid steps and vogue-like arm movements to the dissonance and clashing rhythms of Shostakovch’s “The Bolt” were reminiscent of Plushenko — who was watching in the stands.

“I’m happy with my presentation today,” said Gachinski, who is just 17 and was the bronze medalist at junior worlds a year ago. “I completed the quad and both triple axels, though like yesterday I had a slip on a toe loop. I think it’s because I’ve been practicing the toe quad and it’s difficult to reduce it.”

Takahashi, trying to become the first man since Stephane Lambiel in 2006 to defend his title, finished fifth after a problem with his skate blade. He was forced to bail out of his first jump just seconds into his program, and seek an emergency repair.

The top pairs programs were a contrast of styles, only their superb technical skills in common.

Savchenko and Szolkowy were playful and sly, she in a magenta catsuit and he in blue trousers just a shade less electric. Savchenko traveled so far on the opening throw triple flip she seemed almost to hang in the air, and the rest of the elements were deft. They scored 144.87 for the free skate, topping the record of 141.81 set at the Vancouver Olympics by Pang and Tong.

“It was really something special and it will go down in the history of German figure skating,” Savchenko said.

In contrast to the lighthearted Germans, Volosozhar and Trankov were the epitome of tortured Slavic romance, skating to the brooding strains of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” They opened with a high triple twist, and two dramatic throws made the crowd roar. But the pair, who only teamed up last May after successful careers with other partners, had a few flaws, including poor synchronization on a triple toe-double toe combination.

Pang and Tong had graceful lifts and a solid triple twist. But Tong had to put his hand down on the second jump of their opening double axel sequence.

The first day of the women’s competition is Friday. Japan’s Mao Asada, the defending champion, and Miki Ando face Olympic champion Kim Yu-na of South Korea in her return to competition.

Asada, though capable of doing two triple axels in her free program, said Thursday that’s not on the schedule for this championships.

“I will be doing one triple axel for the short program as well as one for the free program,” Asada said. “Because that’s what I’ve been practicing and training for. I’ll keep that.”

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Associated Press writer Leonid Chizhov contributed to this report.

 

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