German couple Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy boast one of the finest records in post-war pairs skating, thanks to their near-telepathic understanding. From the moment the Ukrainian-born Savchenko teamed up with Szolkowy under the watchful eye of former world champion Ingo Steuer in Chemnitz in May 2003, they understood that they were made for each other.
“It’s like in private life. Either you get along or you don’t. You trust each other or you don’t,” they explained. “Either you can handle the nerves during competition or not. We fulfil different roles, it’s important to realise that Robin is the quiet one and Aljona the explosive one. Robin is dark. Aljona is bright. It’s a nice contrast, just like Sochi: the mountains and sea; beaches with palm trees right next to snow-topped mountains.”
Forever looking to innovate, the pair bring new and increasingly technical elements into their routines every year, among them an eye-catching triple axel throw. Their refusal to stand still has brought them rich rewards. Together they have climbed on to the podium at every ISU World Figure Skating Championships since 2007, winning bronze that year, silver in 2010 and 2013, and four gold medals in between.
In the meantime they also claimed four European titles and finished runners-up on three other occasions, while also winning four ISU Grand Prix finals, the last of them coming in Fukuoka (JAP) in December 2013.
Reaching for the top
Sixth on their Olympic debut at Turin 2006, which came shortly after Savchenko had taken German nationality, the pair fared better at Vancouver 2010, where they won bronze. Savchenko and Szolkowy, the son of a German nurse and Tanzanian doctor, have loftier ambitions, and ever since Vancouver have been working towards topping the Olympic podium in 2014.
“At Sochi we’ll be setting out to win the gold. Anyone who has won the World Cup and European Championships four times each should have that as their goal. Sure, that’s a lot of pressure, but pressure is good. Otherwise it’s hard to give your best. In recent years, we have learned a great deal about dealing with stress.
“The Olympic Games is, for any athlete, like scaling Mount Olympus. It’s the ultimate. This is the third time we’re taking part in the figure skating, and we are almost at retirement age. There won’t be a fourth time so we do want to win.”
Together with coach and choreographer Steuer, they are giving everything they have got in this last major challenge of their careers. “We have a dream and we do everything to achieve it,” said Savchenko. “Pair skating is getting more and more complicated. You must always try something different, technically extreme and crazy. You have to be unique and to do different things to go forward.”
Having chosen Tchaikovsvky’s Nutcracker Suite as the musical accompaniment for their free programme, the German duo have set their sights firmly on the Olympic pairs title, de-ciding to skip the newly created team event, which comes to a conclusion three days be-fore the pairs competition gets under way at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace.
Aiming to stop them will be the Russian pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who pipped Savchenko and Szolkowy to the 2013 world title but were second-best to them at the ISU Grand Prix final later in the year in Fukuoka (JPN). “We showed who was boss in Japan. And we’ll be showing it again in Sochi,” vows a confident Savchenko.