Tatiana Volosozhar, Maxim Trankov

Top Russian pairs skaters not fazed by impending Olympic pressure

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DETROIT — Russian figure skating isn’t what it once was: a nation responsible for 14 medals over three Olympics in the 1990s — and 12 straight pairs golds from 1964 and 2006 — may win one skating medal at the Sochi Olympics.

The best hope is the pairs team of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov, the reigning World Champions who reset their short program and free skate world records at Skate America in Detroit last weekend.

The Moscow-based skaters are motivated and not deterred by the immense pressure.

“We only have pressure for each other — we push each other every day,” Trankov said. “I think it’s most important to keep working. You never know, especially with the Olympics, what will happen. You cannot plan these competitions. You just work and hope that everything will be OK.”

It wasn’t OK for the Russians at the 2010 Games, when — for the first time since 1960 — no Russian (or Soviet) pair landed on the podium. Trankov was eighth with a different partner and Volosozhar, then competing for Ukraine, was ninth. China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won gold.

“There is an old tradition for pairs skating in our country,” Trankov said. “The last Olympics were won by the Chinese, but they skated like Soviet pairs skaters; they were good and were champions. The way they skated was kind of Russian. We just want to win back a medal for our country in pairs.”

Volosozhar and Trankov can win a second medal with the debut of the Olympic figure skating team event. Trankov thinks he and Volosozhar will do the short program and give another Russian pair the opportunity to sub in for the free skate.

Volosozhar explained further, noting the turnaround from the team event free skate (Feb. 8) to the start of the pairs competition (Feb. 11).

“We want to skate,” she said. “We just don’t understand why it is before the main competition. Because for pairs, we start way earlier. There are only two days between the team competition and the main one.”

Volosozhar and Trankov are confident that the Russian team can win a medal — if not gold — particularly if they have three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko. The U.S., Canada and Japan are considered medal favorites along with Russia.

Plushenko has battled injuries since winning silver at the 2010 Olympics and hasn’t competed since January. Russia earned one men’s spot at the Games. Plushenko is thought to be a lock to receive it if he proves healthy.

“He said he wants to skate for the team event for sure,” Trankov said. “He will skate both programs, and we’re very to happy to have him on our team. It’s a really good chance for us to win a medal.”

The Russians have a respectable team in Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev in ice dancing, bronze medalists at the World Championships in March, and Adelina Sotnikova, ninth at Worlds at 16.

“Maybe not gold, but we for sure we can win a team medal,” Trankov said. “We have good girls and pairs and not bad ice dancers. I think we’ll do it. If Evgeni will help us, that will make it even better.”

And the eight years since a pairs gold in Russia?

“That helps us a little bit,” Volosozhar said. “Because we want to win a medal for Russia.”

Quad quandary for top U.S. men

Simone Manuel upsets world-record holder again for gold (video)

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Simone Manuel pulled off another upset for gold.

The Olympic 100m free co-gold medalist won the world 100m freestyle title by stunning world-record holder Sarah Sjöström in an American record 52.27 seconds in Budapest on Friday.

The Swede Sjöström took silver in 52.31, followed by Denmark’s Pernille Blume in 52.69. American Mallory Comerford was fourth.

Sjöström was a heavy favorite going into the final, given she clocked 51.71 leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, taking .35 off the world record. Sjöström was .08 faster than her world-record pace at the 50-meter mark, but Manuel passed her in the last 10 meters and lowered her personal best by .42.

One year ago, Manuel and Canadian Penny Oleksiak were surprise Rio 100m free co-champions, topping then-world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell skipped worlds.

Manuel became the first U.S. woman to win the world 100m free title since Jenny Thompson in 1998.

She also took back the American record from Comerford, the 19-year-old who lowered it leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.27
Silver: Sarah Sjöström (SWE) — 52.31
Bronze: Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.69
4. Mallory Comerford (USA) — 52.77
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 52.78
6. Penny Oleksiak (CAN) — 52.94
7. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 53.18
8. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 53.21

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Yulia Efimova beats Lilly King at worlds; Simone Manuel pulls upset

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Yulia Efimova and Lilly King are even with one round to go.

The Russian took the latest episode of the Cold War swim rivalry, winning her trademark 200m breaststroke at the world championships in Budapest on Friday.

Earlier, American Simone Manuel won the 100m free in an upset, but Efimova was the clear favorite in the 200m breast. The Russian entered worlds with the top time in the world this year by two seconds.

Efimova passed King, four lanes to her right, with less than 100 meters to go and clocked 2:19.64. American Bethany Galat earned silver. King was fourth.

In four career head-to-head events in Rio and Budapest, King won both 100m breast duels, while Efimova finished higher in both 200m breast events.

King and Efimova are both entered in the 50m breast, with the final on Sunday and King the favorite. The 50m breast is not contested at the Olympics.

The women’s 100m free was much closer than the 200m breast on Friday. Manuel stunned world-record holder Sarah Sjöström in an American record 52.27 seconds.

The Swede Sjöström took silver in 52.31, followed by Denmark’s Pernille Blume in 52.69. American Mallory Comerford was fourth.

Sjöström was a heavy favorite going into the final, given she clocked 51.71 leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, taking .35 off the world record. Sjöström was .08 faster than her world-record pace at the 50-meter mark, but Manuel passed her in the last 10 meters.

One year ago, Manuel and Canadian Penny Oleksiak were surprise Olympic 100m free co-champions, topping then-world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell skipped worlds.

Manuel became the first U.S. woman to win the world 100m free title since Jenny Thompson in 1998.

The U.S. also grabbed silver and bronze medals in the men’s 200m backstroke.

Russian Yevgeny Rylov won in 1:53.61, with Olympic champion Ryan Murphy nearly chasing him down in the last 50 meters. Murphy ended up six tenths back, followed by countryman Jacob Pebley.

In semifinals, Caeleb Dressel broke the American record in the 50m freestyle to lead the qualifiers into Saturday’s final.

Australian Emily Seebohm was the fastest qualifier into the women’s 200m back final Saturday. Seebohm, the 2015 World champion, is joined by 100m back world-record holder Kylie Masse and silver medalist Kathleen Baker, plus Hungarian superstar Katinka Hosszu and 15-year-old American Regan Smith.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.27
Silver: Sarah Sjöström (SWE) — 52.31
Bronze: Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.69
4. Mallory Comerford (USA) — 52.77
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 52.78
6. Penny Oleksiak (CAN) — 52.94
7. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 53.18
8. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 53.21

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