For so many years, they owned the top of the podium.
Almost hard to fathom, then, that when Tatiana Volososzhar and Maxim Trankov won the first gold medal of the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, it marked the first triumph for Russia in the discipline in eight years.
This for a country which, going back to the old days of the Soviet Union, ruled the pairs event at Worlds with an iron fist. From 1985-92, Soviet pairs teams claimed eight straight titles. Between 1994-2000, skaters from the current Russia won five of seven titles at Worlds.
But starting with a victory by Canada’s Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in 2001 in Vancouver, Russia began to lose its grip on the event. Since 2002, Chinese teams have claimed top honors five times, while Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are four-time champions.
Only Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, who struck gold in 2004 and 2005, were able to bring pairs gold back to their homeland.
But Volososzhar and Trankov put an end to that run of futility in emphatic fashion on Friday, with their 225.71 total giving them the gold by more than 20 points over the Germans.
“It was our goal for this season. We finished a gold season,” said Volososzhar with a wide smile. “It’s very important for Russia.”
Now comes the next challenge: doing it all again next year at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Totmianina and Marinin were golden in 2006 in Torino, Italy, but the Russians came up empty four years ago in Vancouver.
“For me, it’s important (to win in Sochi) because I love to be a pairs skater and I love this sport,” said Trankov. “Before, it was always Russian fashion in the pairs skating. They made the fashion of figure skating, like lines and speed and some elements. We lost it, we lost that position the last few seasons ... it’s most important to get it back.”
Speaking of drought enders ... Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford got that taken care of for Canada, with their bronze medal matching the effort of Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison in 2008.
It’s been four years of emptiness.
But for a team that has overcome its share of obstacles over the past three years, the medal was an affirmation of everything they’re doing.
“The most surreal, unbelievable moment in our lives,” said Duhamel. “It’s something very special that we’ll have with us forever and for it to happen in Canada topped it all off.”
While the Canadians finished a scant one point behind the silver medalist from Germany, don’t think for a minute they’re spending too much time thinking ‘what if?’
“This bronze medal is golden to us,” said Duhamel. “I don’t think we feel anything but joy about it.”
It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for the four-time World champions. But winning the silver medal in London helped Savchenko and Szolkowy enjoy its conclusion.
“This was quite a tough season for us,” Szolkowy said. “We had this long break after our first competition, Skate Canada, and we had to recover to find the rhythm to stick to it and perform good in four competitions this season. At the end, to have a silver medal here ... I think it’s good.”
It’s often said maintaining a pair partnership is akin to keeping a marriage on track.
They’re a different breed, these folks, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Once you start pairs and once you build a relationship, a trust with each other ... I couldn’t imagine skating by myself,” said Canada’s Dylan Moscovitch, who earned a fourth-place finish at Worlds with Kirsten Moore-Towers, his partner of four years. “It would be like being out there naked. A pretty scary thought.”
The result achieved by Moore-Towers and Moscovitch gave Canada two pair teams in the top four. That has not happened at Worlds since 1962 in Prague, when Maria and Otto Jelinek won gold, and Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell placed fourth.