The pairs discipline is one that is less crowded in terms of big name competitors. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be an exciting competition!
Only two countries in the pairs discipline have three teams, Russia and Canada. Russia has dominated the pairs’ podium, winning the god medal from 1964 to 2006 (though 2002 is disputed). This year, Russia’s most likely medalist will come from the pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. They currently stand at the top of the world rankings. Neither partner is any stranger to Olympic competition. Tatiana skated in the Vancouver games with Stanislav Morozov (for Ukraine), coming in 8th, while Maxim skated with Maria Mukhortova (for Russia), and coming in 7th. Their pairing together has proved dominate this season wining almost every competition they entered. I’m a big fan of their free program (done to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar).
The other country with three teams is Canada. There are two teams out of the three that could contend for a medal. The first is Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. This pair is the highest ranking pair from North America and they’re such a fun pair to watch. These two have some interesting choreography as well as some notable highlights in that Radford composed their short program music in tribute to a former coach and Duhamel was the first ever pairs’ skater to perform a throw triple Lutz in competition. Canada’s other possible team; Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Mosovitch are more of a dark horse. They’re a relatively new pair, having only teamed up in 2009; they sit in 8th in the world rankings. They could play spoiler, especially in the team event.
One of the most consistent pairs in the world right now is Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. While they sit in 2nd in the world rankings they have the goods to deliver. They are the reigning Olympic Bronze Medalists and reigning silver world medalists. Part of what makes this couple so consistent is their long history together (together since 2004). Look for a possible throw triple Axel!
One country has a team that may surprise people and that is Italy, their Stefania Berton and Ondřej Hotárek currently sit in third in the world rankings. Their free program is one of my favorites, skaing to Philipp Glass’s Dracula, it’s hauntingly beautiful. As they done before, they could play spoiler for the bronze position on the podium.
In the last three Olympics, China has provided 5 of the last nine medals awards. So it should come as no surprise that contenders for the podium are Pang Qing and Tong Jian who are the reigning Olympic silver medalists. They also are currently ranked 4th in world standing. For me what stands out with this pair is their quality of skating and their attention to the choreography. Their free program this year is to I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables (one of three programs to Les Miserables that will be at the Olympics) is just magnificent.
As for the United States, it definitely will be an uphill battle. Don’t get me wrong I love our pairs’ teams, but pairs’ is not a strong discipline for the US. That lack of strength and the reasons behind it is a whole other blog. However, if mistakes happen, the US could step in and grab a medal. We are sending two teams and I feel that Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have the best chance at grabbing it. This team is one of my favorites in the US pairs circuit, partly because stand out on the ice. Simon is 6’4” and Marissa is tiny and it just makes a strikingly beautiful picture. They also skate with a lot speed and passion which is really nice to see. The other US pair, Felicia Zhang and Nathan “Nate” Barthomay are also a great pair to watch. Frankly, their free program is one of my favorites, though I am biased ;). They use Les Miserables and one of their final lifts just fits so well with the music, it’s awesome.