- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - The Olympic record books are loaded with Russian pairs wins. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are closing in on another.

This one would be extra special for two reasons: The games are in their home nation, and a victory could start a whole new winning streak.

From 1964, when the Protopopovs took the first Olympic pairs gold medal for the country, through 2006, the event belonged to skaters from either the Soviet Union or Russia. But no Russians even reached the medals stand in the event at Vancouver.

“We want to win the Olympics in Russia and we want to be the next gold medal winners in pairs for Russia,” Trankov said through a translator Tuesday night. “We have the strong history.”


And they have the strong programs. In fact, Russian pairs were first, third and eighth in the short program. There’s no reason to think they won’t be just as tough to beat in the free skate on Wednesday night at the Iceberg.

World champions Volosozhar and Trankov have a 4.53-point lead over four-time world winners Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany. It’s not an insurmountable lead, but with the way Russian skaters have been performing at the Sochi Games, it’s a solid margin.

“The German team is very strong, and there is not much difference in the scores,” Trankov added, “and we will now concentrate on winning the gold medal.”

They already have one of those from the team event, in which Volosozhar and Trankov won the short program, then let Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov handle - and win - the long program. Stolbova and Klimov were third Tuesday.

“We must put the team (competition) behind us and concentrate on the long program,” Trankov added.

Savchenko and Szolkowy skipped the team event. Germany was a long shot to make the final five in that new competition, so the pair got more practice time and rest by sitting out.

“We really want to concentrate on the solo competition, and that’s what only counts for us now,” Szolkowy said. “We want to fight for the gold medal.”

Stolbova said with a laugh that she has her gold medal tucked away in her bag, but wouldn’t mind another one. Their free skate to “The Addams Family” on Saturday night was anything but ghastly - it was superb. A repeat performance would put the pressure on the leaders.

U.S. champions Marissa Castelli of Cranston, R.I., and Simon Shnapir of Sudbury, Mass., were ninth, putting them on course of their objectives: a top 10 finish and personal bests in every program. Their 67.44 score was their highest international score.

“Honestly, I think we can do better and break into the 70s,” Shnapir said. “But this gives us enormous confidence moving forward.”

The other American pair, Felicia Zhang of Plainsboro, N.J., and Nathan Bartholomay of Newtown, Pa., were 14th. Sixteen teams advanced.