Chasing first world title, Boikova and Kozlovskii lead pairs at worlds; two-time winners Sui/Han second
Boikova/Kozlovskii were near to their best on Wednesday, as their Russian compatriots Tarasova and Morozov struggled into fourth place. Mishina/Galliamov are third.
Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii have waited more than a year for this.
The Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) duo looked prime for a breakout performance at worlds in 2020, only for the event to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They made up for that on Wednesday evening (24 March) at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, skating near to their peak and into the lead in the pairs competition with a 80.16 in the short program.
They lead two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China, who were making their season debut. The Olympic silver medallists are in second at 77.62 while FSR duo Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov are third with a 75.79.
It was a disappointing short for three-time world medallists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, Tarasova turning their side-by-side triple toeloops into a double, losing some five points on the mistake. They are in fourth place at 71.46.
China's No.2 team, Peng Cheng and Jin Yang rounded out the top five with a 72.32. American teams Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc as well as Alex Knierim and Brandon Frazier are in sixth and seventh, respectively.
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Boikova/Kozlovskii: 'We are happy to be part of the story'
European champions in 2020, Boikova/Kozlovskii, the 2017 world junior champs, were denied making a big splash at worlds last year, but made up for it in their short program in Stockholm, a new program for the team - skating to "Merry Go Round of Life" - music they found from a fan suggestion on social media.
"We wanted to add more emotions and we wanted to add fresh energy," Kozlovskii said of the program change. "We are listening to and watching what the fans are saying, so please go ahead and have some ideas."
About appearing at the world championships: "We feel great. We are happy to be a part of the story, the comeback story of figure skating."
The team barely put a blade wrong in a program that opened with side-by-side triple Salchows, then featured a monster triple twist and throw triple flip. The duo received positive grades of execution (GOEs) across the board on the day, though they were slightly outscored in the program components (artistry) by Sui and Han (37.09 to 36.72).
For Sui and Han, it was their first international skate of the season, having missed Cup of China due to Han's continued recovery from surgery last April. Sui was called for a quarter rotation on their side-by-side triples, but otherwise the team embodied the kind of confident skating fans have come to love.
"I think we had a little problem in the first element. It's our first competition of the season," Sui told reporters. "This time is much different from before; no audience here. Our fans are watching on TV to see our programs. I think it's been different for us. I think every competition is different for every athlete, so we try to enjoy the competition."
Said Sochi 2014 Olympic ice dance Meryl Davis: "Even in the warm-up Boikova/Kozlovskii looked particularly confident. It's fun to see their joy at the finish after such a beautiful skate, and this nicely sets them up as the leaders going into the long.
"Sui and Han were perhaps slightly more tentative tonight than we’re accustomed to seeing these two-time and reigning world champions, but this is their first major event in over a year," she added. "Despite a step out on the side by side jump, these skaters are absolute masters on the ice and it’s a privilege to watch them each time they take the ice. Tonight is no exception."
Frustration for Tarasova; fall for Peng
It was a frustrating day at the office for Tarasova and Morozov, who had captured the Russian national title in December and looked prime to make another run at the world podium this year. They aren't out of the running, though they sit 4.33 points back from compatriots Mishina and Galliamov, who were masterful in their own short program.
Tarasova was downgraded on the duo's side-by-side jumps. They'll need a strong free skate on Thursday night to climb onto the podium.
"Some really beautifully executed elements from these two, including that huge split twist to start," noted Davis of the veteran Russian team. "Heartbreaking to see the disappointment on their faces at the end as a result of that mistake on the side-by-side, but they’ve got a very strong vehicle to come back with in the long."
The duo skates to "Adagio in G Minor" for the free program.
Peng Cheng, meanwhile, did well to handle herself on the ice, recovering from a fluke fall to start her program and a tear in the side of her costume, which several times she placed her hand over during the program. She was called for a q on her triple toe as well, but otherwise stayed mentally strong in a challenging scenario.
Both U.S. teams had errors on their side-by-sides as well, Cain-Gribble falling on their triple Salchow and Frazier turning his triple toe into a double. Peng/Cheng in fifth have a seven-point cushion ahead of Cain-Gribble/LeDuc in sixth.
The top 10 was rounded out with: Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi of Japan (64.37) in eighth; Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer of Austria in ninth (64.01); and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada in 10th (63.45).
The day ended with news of differing nature: Mae Berenice Meite thanking fans for their support after her injury in the short program (see below); and the ISU announcing there had been a second positive Covid-19 test among those in Stockholm, though - the organisation said in a statement - that person did not come in contact with others in the competition bubble.