Longtime partners Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China parlayed their 18-year relationship into Olympic gold tonight at the close of the pairs figure skating finals, finishing just 3.26 points over teammates and surprise silver medalists Pang Qing and Tong Jian. The German pair of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who were expected to go head-to-head against Shen-Zhao for the gold, offered up a less than perfect free skate and settled for the bronze.
Shen and Zhao, who were the last couple to perform their free skate, entered the night in first place. Skating to Adagio in G Minor, they started their program on a high note and performed a technically difficult routine that was not without its flaws, but still finished second in the free skate, posting a score of 139.91, for a total event score of 216.57. The two-time Olympic bronze medalists, who are near-ancient at 31 and 36 in figure skating terms, seemed stunned when the results were announced.
The surprise pair of the evening was Pang-Tong, who very appropriately skated to Impossible Dream while en route to posting the highest free skate marks of the night, and overtaking Savchenko-Szolkowy for second place with an event total score of 213.31. The third Chinese pair in the competition, Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, delivered a performance that was decidedly rough around the edges, yet still scored enough points to finish 5th. This is the same couple who suffered a major fall during their free skate at the Torino Games in 2006 yet still wound up winning the silver medal.
2010 Olympic pairs figure skating bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who skated to Out of Africa, had perhaps the most disappointing evening of all of the competitors as they suffered a fall that likely took them out of gold medal contention. Despite their difficulties, they still finished just 5.97 points out of first place.
The United States’ Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig performed a beautiful routine that secured them a very respectable 10th place in their Olympic debut, while US Champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett came in three spots lower in 13th after dancing a clean, artistic program to Scheherazade. Given that neither couple was expected to medal at the Vancouver Games, they both did very well and should be pleased with their Olympic experiences. Keep an eye on Denney-Barrett in the future as they’re sure to improve with time and experience.
Tonight’s finals mark a shift in the trajectory of pairs figure skating: It’s the first time since 1960 that a Russian team hasn’t won the Gold medal in Olympic pairs figure skating.
Pairs Figure Skating Results, Vancouver 2010 Official Site
List of Olympic Medals in Figure Skating, Wikipedia
NBC Broadcast – Olympic Pairs Figure Skating Free Skate, February 15, 2010