Russian Skaters Miss Pairs Gold, First Since 1964

ReutersKavaguti, above, and Smirnov performing their long program in Vancouver.

Russian pairs skaters Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov finished without a medal Monday night, the first time since 1964 that a Soviet or Russian team has not won Olympic gold.

While the pair had stood third after a solid short program, a series of mistakes in the long program pushed them into fourth place. Gold and silver went to the Chinese pairs Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo and Pang Qing and Tong Jian; Alena Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won bronze.

Medals table at the end of the third day
1 Switzerland3003
2 U.S.2248
3 South Korea2103
4 France2024
5 Germany1315
6 Canada1214
7 China1102
8 Czech Republic1012
9 Sweden1001
9 Slovakia1001
9 Netherlands1001
12 Norway0213
13 Italy0123
14 Japan0112
15 Australia0101
15 Estonia0101
15 Poland0101
18 Austria0011
18 Russia0011
18 Croatia0011
- Reuters

Exactly what caused Kavaguti and Smirnov, the current European and Russian National champions, to falter is unclear. The pair decided at the last minute to downgrade their trademark throw quadruple salchow to a triple.

Kavaguti told reporters that the switch affected her concentration, and she bobbled the throw salchow, then fell on another throw triple jump. Smirnov also fell on the side-by-side double axel.  

While nerves almost certainly played a role, commentators said Kavaguti and Smirnov did not quite live up to the level of previous Russian champions.

“Their competitors skated with more calm and flair, especially the Chinese,” said Anton Sikharulidze, the 2002 pairs gold medalist, RIA-Novosti reported.

Three-time pairs gold medalist Irina Rodnina shared this view.

“Part of mastery is bringing your nerves into balance with your technical skills,” she said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Kavaguti and Smirnov were not the only pair to struggle. Bronze medalists Savchenko and Szolkowy made mistakes with their side-by-side jumps and even the gold medalists did not manage an entirely flawless long program. Silver medalists Pang and Tong skated the best program of the evening, but it was not enough for first after their fourth-place finish in the short program.

Kavaguti, 28, and Smirnov, 25, both expressed great disappointment over their failure to bring the Russian team a medal, but they offered differing views on their competitive future.

“Yuko and I plan to continue skating,” Smirnov said, RIA-Novosti reported. He answered “of course” to a reporter’s question about whether they would compete together at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

Kavaguti, who took Russian citizenship in February 2009, lacked the same certainty over Sochi. “I don’t know,” she said, RIA-Novosti reported. “Right now we will just skate.”

Two other pairs skated for Russia: Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov finished seventh, while Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov took 11th.

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