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Sochi Figure Skating preview (pairs): Handicapping the top pairs (Part 2)

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We've had a look at some of the outside contenders in the earlier groups and some of the bonafide medal contenders in the later groups, let's handicap the final six pairs to skate in tomorrow's short programs.

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Related: Team Event results

Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy GER (Group 4) - There was a while there where Savchenko/Szolkowy were looking to be on their way to grabbing gold in Sochi. Come to think of it, it was a similar story four years ago in Vancouver. There, they came in having won the two World titles prior to the Olympics, but a rough Olympic season gave them the bronze. Here, they are coming in having won two of the last three World titles, but a pair named Volosozhar/Trankov is completely in their way.

But there is a bright side - they beat Volosozhar/Trankov for the Grand Prix Final title in December, though that was the function of them skating a clean free skate while the Russians made mistakes in theirs. Savchenko/Szolkowy's biggest hurdle is that Volosozhar/Trankov have eclipsed them in component marks, and if both skate cleanly, it'll most certainly be Volosozhar/Trankov who will come out the winners. So if the Germans are to take that elusive Olympic gold, they will likely need a little help in the form of mistakes from the Russians.

Oh, and that throw triple axel at the end of the free skate? If it does appear (it didn't at the Grand Prix Final), it might be a game-changer.

Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek ITA (Group 4) - Steady improvements in the past few years have made Berton/Hotarek an outside contender for the podium. They are capable of a 70+ score in the short, which can help put them into contention. One thing that isn't all that promising was the fall that Berton took in the team free skate, which she is still smarting from, for sure. It'll be interesting to see how that affects their performances this week. Top five is certainly a possibility, especially if they can put together two clean skates. But if the top teams make mistakes, there's a slim possibility that they can sneak in their for a bronze.

Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov RUS (Group 5) - Overwhelming favorites? I'd say so. But the interesting thing about Volosozhar/Trankov's trajectory this season is that they have had two poor free skates in their last two competitions. They lost the title to Savchenko/Szolkowy at the Grand Prix Final and then lost the free skate to Stolbova/Klimov at Europeans. This after posting loads of world records for both programs earlier in the season.

All else equal, Volosozhar/Trankov will stand above every other pair in the field, but they will have to make sure that their side-by-side jumps are in order. And if the skate two clean programs, watch out, world records, you're going down again.

Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov RUS (Group 5) - Underwhelming - that's been Bazarova/Larionov's season so far. One of the big shocks to this pair this season is the ascent of Stolbova/Klimov, who edged them at Russian Nationals and handily beat them at Europeans. The big hurdle is that Bazarova/Larionov have plateaued. You can see them in the top eight, or even the top five, but it'll be a stretch for them to get onto the podium.

Qing Pang/Jian Tong CHN (Group 5) - The team that was two higher-level death spirals away from pulling off the huge upset in Vancouver over teammates Xue Shen/Hongbo Zhao is back but looking from the outside. They've stuck around for four more years to make another run at the gold in now their fourth Olympics. But four years is a long time, and injuries, especially to Tong, have really taken a toll on their consistency and, perhaps more damagingly, their international exposure. Two clean programs can put them back on the podium, but those dreaded side-by-side jumps will need to be solid for that to happen.

Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch CAN (Group 5) - Fourth at Worlds last season, Moore-Towers/Moscovitch have some of the greatest lifts among the pairs today. Like their teammates, Duhamel/Radford, they are medal contenders, but their PCSs aren't nearly as high as the very top pairs. But unlike Duhamel/Radford, they don't have a higher base value to boost them up. Clean programs are a must for them to be in the top five.

PREVIOUS: Handicapping the pairs (Part 1)
NEXT: Pairs predictions

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