It's been eight years since Russia last stood atop the podium in the pairs event at Worlds. Since Tatiana Totmianina/Maxim Marinin won it twice in 2004 and 2005, it's been all Germany and China. But next week at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, favorite status rests on a Russian pair, just in time for next year's as Russia hosts the Olympics.
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This time last year, Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov were a death spiral away from the World title. They skated one of the best pairs' free skates in recent memory to pull themselves from eighth to take the silver, just 0.11 behind Germany's Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, who won their fourth World title.
There's been something oddly flat about Savchenko/Szolkowy this season, losing to Volosozhar/Trankov for the first time ever at Europeans in January. Savchenko suffered from an illness that took them out of their second Grand Prix. This rematch of the rival pairs will certain be interesting, with the Russians having the clear momentum coming in.
Wide open for the bronze?
Most would agree that there is now a gap between the two favorites and the rest of the field. But the bronze is really up for grabs. You can't talk about pairs without bringing in the Chinese - Qing Pang/Jian Tong, who have won Worlds twice, will be competing in their 15th consecutive Worlds. You'd normally put them in the same category as the two favorites, but their inconsistency has made it tough for them to shine lately. Teammates Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, ninth last year, are slated to compete for the first time all season. Both pairs have been having issues with injuries this season.
Canada could have its first pair on the podium since 2008, bringing two very strong pairs who have been accelerating all season. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford recently won the biggest title of their career at Four Continents, just ahead of teammates Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch. You can be sure they both have their eyes on the prize.
But perhaps flying under the radar the most are Russia's Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov, who are starting to come into their own this season. Teammate Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov, twice the bronze medalists, are always a threat. And Italy's Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek have been having their best season ever, most recently with their first medal at Europeans, a bronze.