Olympic pairs’ champs lead after worlds short program

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic pairs’ title by topping the world championships short program in Milan on Wednesday night.

Savchenko, seeking her sixth world title, and Massot, eyeing his first, tallied a personal-best 82.98 points with a clean program including side-by-side triple Salchows and a throw triple flip.

“We are Olympic champions, but the Olympics were yesterday,” Savchenko said, according to the International Skating Union. “We put our Olympic gold medals aside and focus on this competition.”

They lead Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov by 1.69 going into Thursday’s free skate.

Full results are here.

Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs’ list of world titles with Soviet Alexander Zaitsev, four shy of Irina Rodnina‘s record.

The field lacks the Olympic silver and bronze medalists. China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are not defending their world title due to Sui’s foot injury. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the 2015 and 2016 World champions, retired after PyeongChang.

That made Savchenko and Massot and Olympic fourth-place finishers Tarasova and Morozov the pre-worlds favorites. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres are in third, seeking France’s second Olympic or world pairs’ medal in 86 years.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim are 11th with 69.55 points after placing 15th in PyeongChang. Scimeca’s elbow knocked Knierim’s eyebrow coming down from a lift Wednesday. The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

“We wish we could have broken 70 [points],” Scimeca said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “That was a goal of ours.”

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot. Stellato, who retired from singles skating at 17 due to hip injuries, came back at age 32 in pairs in 2016 and took bronze with Bartholomay at nationals.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Thursday ET)
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 2:51 p.m.
Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 4:20 p.m.
Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 4:28 p.m.
Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 4:37 p.m.
Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 4:46 p.m.

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