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Russians win pairs gold, now looking towards Sochi Olympics

Photo: Darron Cummings/AP

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov dominated the competition, beating the German pair by nearly 20 points.

LONDON, Ontario (AP) -- Now that they've reclaimed one title for Russia, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov have their eyes on another.

Volosozhar and Trankov gave Russia its first pairs title at the World Figure Skating Championships since 2005 on Friday, a lopsided victory that sent a clear message to the Germans, Canadians and Chinese.

"This means we can fight for gold in Sochi," Trankov said. "Get the gold medal back for Russia."

The victory completed a season sweep of the major titles for Volosozhar and Trankov, who earlier this season claimed golds at the Grand Prix Final and European championships. They haven't lost a competition since last year's world championships, where they finished second.

This victory was so dominant it shattered the previous records for both total score and the free skate. Volosozhar and Trankov's final score of 225.71 was almost eight points better than the previous mark, while their 149.87 points for the free skate was exactly five points higher.

They also were almost 20 points ahead of Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, winners of four of the previous five world titles.

"We don't think one competition can change anything," Trankov insisted. "We just won this competition, this worlds. Next season will be another season."

Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, in second after the short program, dropped to third.

Americans Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim were ninth, an impressive debut for a pair that hasn't even been together a full year. U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir were 13th, ensuring that the United States will be able to send two pairs to Sochi.

The men's free skate is later Friday.

Russia was the gold standard in pairs for the better part of a half-century. Not only did a Russian pair win or share the gold medal at every Olympics from 1964 to 2006, they set the trends in the discipline. When the Russians put jumps in their programs, everyone else did, too. When they began wearing costumes draped with wispy pieces of fabric, the rest of the world ran out and shredded their clothes, too.

But the Russians haven't had a dominant pair since Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won the gold in 2006, a fact that has been bugging Trankov for a while now.

"Russia was the fashion in pairs skating. The lines, the elements. And we've lost that," he said. "I learned the old school of Russian figure skating, and for me it's important to bring it back."

This was a great start.

With nearly perfect unison and choreography that exquisitely fit their "Violin Muse" program, they were a pure joy to watch. Their ballet training was evident in gorgeous lines and extensions, details that elevate a good program to greatness.

What makes pairs special, however, is that constant element of danger, and the Russians know how to thrill. She got so high on their triple twist she ought to have had clearance from Canadian aviation authorities, and they almost ran out of ice on their throw triple loop. On their final lift, not only did he carry her for what seemed like hours, he did most of it while gliding backward on only one foot, a feat that takes strength, dexterity and more than a little guts.

They weren't perfect, with him tripping after their throw triple salchow.

But it hardly mattered when the rest of their program was so spectacular. When they finished, she hopped up and down. He bent over, spent, and she smiled as she kissed the top of his head.

"It was our goal for this season," Volosozhar said. "We finished a gold season."

The Germans are known for brash, in-your-face programs, but they went for a different look with their flamenco "Bolero."

Even their costumes - usually such a train wreck snarky fashion magazine writers are left speechless - were subdued: She wore a black dress with a colorful bikinilike top; he was in a matching shirt and black pants.

It didn't work. Any of it.

Savchenko and Szolkowy's errors were bad enough. He fell on their side-by-side triple salchows and she doubled both of the jumps in their triple toe loop-triple toe sequence. She also two-footed the landing of a throw triple axel and put her hand down, though they got a ton of points for even trying the difficult jump. But their program was so slow, it's a wonder snores weren't heard in the arena.

"This season was quite a tough season for us," Szolkowy said, referring to the nearly three months they had between major competitions because of her severe sinus infection. "Four competitions this season, that's not much. At the end, to have the silver medal, it's good."

Though the Russians also beat the Germans by a healthy margin - seven points - at Europeans, Szolkowy didn't seem concerned about the gap.

"Skate clean," he said when someone asked how he and Savchenko could make up the difference.

Fans booed when they saw Savchenko and Szolkowy's scores, which moved them ahead of Duhamel and Radford. But the Canadians had their issues, too. Their unison went off and on like a light switch in their combination spin, and they nearly bumped into each other on the last jump of their triple salchow-double toe-double toe combination. By the end of the program, they were barely moving.

Still, a medal of any color was huge for the Canadians, who had never won an international title until last month's Four Continents.

"The world knows we're capable of winning a medal," Radford said. "We're not just competing at the Olympics (next year)."

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