2015-16 Russian Nationals preview (pairs): Are the Olympic champs ready?

UPDATE: Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov withdrew from the competition on 12/22. Klimov posted what seems like a painful-looking back this morning on Instagram. We will have to wait for this Olympics rematch. This will pave the way for, likely, an easy win for Volosozhar/Trankov.


I've already written about the depth of competition in the pairs world these days. And just as the ladies event at Russian Nationals this week is going to be an incredible showcase of skating, the pairs event will likely equally blow your mind. The reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists will be competing head-to-head for the first time since Sochi. And knowing the circumstances, the standings might be reversed this week.

Rocker Predictions: 2015 Russian Nationals

One of the most interesting things about Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov's comeback to competition this season is the fact that, while they have made it clear that quads are not in their future, they have still made upgrades to their technical content. So they know it was important to address their technical mark and make sure that they aren't falling behind there. The Olympic champs now have a throw triple flip and are finally doing a three-jump combo (adding a second double toe onto their triple toe-double toe in their free skate). Delivered perfectly, their two programs should still score as high as the strongest programs out there - but they no longer have the huge advantage that they had two years ago.

The issue this week for Volosozhar/Trankov comes twofold: 1) in a resurgent Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov, who just won the Grand Prix Final title handily and with a free skate score that almost broke Volosozhar/Trankov's world record set two years ago, and 2) in Volosozhar's foot injury that took them out of NHK Trophy. Stolbova/Klimov are coming in with momentum like a freight train, and it's just tough to see Volosozhar/Trankov being perfect this soon after an injury.

The fight for bronze will be interesting. And a month or so ago, you'd say that the podium would consist of Volosozhar/Trankov, Stolbova/Klimov, and Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov - and that they would be heads and shoulders above the others. But Kavaguti/Smirnov were shaky at GPF, with Kavaguti falling on both side-by-sides in their free skate. They are still favored for bronze (or even higher), but don't be surprised if Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov sneak in there.

The new pair to watch, though, is Natalja Zabijako/Alexander Enbert, who have had a solid debut season so far. Maybe Zabijako, who is on her fifth partner in seven seasons, has finally found the pairing she'll stick with for a while?

PAIRS Top 7 (Predictions)
1. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (WITHDREW 12/22)
2. Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov
3. Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov
4. Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov
5. Natalja Zabijako/Alexander Enbert
6. Kristina Astakhova/Alexei Rogonov
7. Vera Bazarova/Andrei Deputat