GANGNEUNG, South Korea – It took Aliona Savchenko five trips to the Winter Games, working with three different partners and representing two different nations, to finally achieve Olympic glory.
It also took Bruno Massot lifting her to the top step of the podium.
Performing to music by Armand Amar, the German pair pranced and soared to a record 159.31 points in their free skate Thursday. That gave them 235.90 points, catapulting them from fourth place to first and topping China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by less than half a point.
“We did New Year’s together,” the Ukraine-born Savchenko said, “and we said, `2018 will be our year,’ and it its. It’s just an amazing story, and I’m unbelievably happy.”
Sui and Han, who led after the short program, made mistakes on their opening lift, a combination jump and side-by-side triple salchows. They recovered to skate a strong second half of the program, but the bobbles proved costly. They finished with 234.47 points, leaving them with a silver medal.
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford added bronze to the team gold they won with Canada, becoming the first pair to land a quad throw in an Olympic competition.
“We heard what the Germans did before us. We heard that score when we were on the ice,” Duhamel said. “We didn’t let it faze us. We said: `OK, good for them. Now it’s our turn.“’
They skated well. But the Germans were simply superb.
Savchenko stuck a huge triple twist lift to open their program, going so high that it seemed she would scrape the ceiling, and the couple was perfect on a throw triple flip. They followed with a gorgeous combination and a side-by-side triple toe in such perfect unison that it drew gasps from the crowd and a big cheer from German great Katarina Witt seated in the arena.
When the music stopped, Savchenko lay on the ice gasping for air.
The performance was sweet vindication for the Germans, who were favored for gold after winning the Grand Prix Final but whose error on a jump in the short program left them playing catch-up.
They caught up and flew right by.
“We were two fighters,” said the French-born Massot. “We were on the ice for a medal, and for a gold medal, and we didn’t give up after what happened yesterday. We were ready for this.”
The 34-year-old Savchenko’s road to Olympic gold included trips with Stanislav Morozov and Robin Szolkowy, with whom she won two bronze medals and five world titles. But it wasn’t until she teamed with Massot four years ago that the groundwork was laid for her triumph in South Korea.
After their flawless performance, Savchenko and Massot had to wait anxiously as three more pairs took the ice. Duhamel and Radford were solid, and Wenjing and Cong made things tight, but the gold medal was assured when Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov struggled.
When the Russian pair’s scores were read, Massot enveloped Savchenko in a big hug.
Then he lifted her – quite literally – onto the top step of the podium.
“Yesterday was hard for me,” Massot said of his short program mistake, “but Aliona was here for me, to tell me it’s not finished: `We still have a very good free program. We have to show to everybody that this program is an Olympic program, a gold medal program.“’
It was indeed.
Earlier in the day, North Korea’s Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik performed a season-best free skate to the delight of their orchestrated cheering section seated in the upper level of Gangneung Ice Arena. The couple finished 13th out of 16 teams to qualify for the free skate.
“I was very nervous,” Kim said, “but when I heard the crowd cheer all the hardships melted away.”
Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim became the first Americans to land a quad twist in an Olympic competition when they opened their free skate with it. The spectacular, four-revolution element is so difficult that only a couple of other pairs tried it.
The rest of their program didn’t go nearly as well.
Knierim fell on both of their triple jumps, Scimeca-Knierim was shaky landing their throw triple flip, and the married couple was out of sync on their combination spin as they finished 15th.
Still, their Olympics were made when they helped the U.S. win team bronze.
“Unfortunately, too many mistakes,” Scimeca-Knierim said. “I was sick last night and this morning with a normal stomach bug. I had asked Chris to kind of pick up the slack for me today because I knew I was going to be more fatigued, but then my adrenalin kicked in and I rose to the occasion.”
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