The Germans may have largely shed the traditional sequins from their outfits, but when they take to the ice in Nice, France on Friday, they will be hoping to sparkle enough to meet the skating expectations of the nation.
Savchenko and Szolkowy are the defending champions, but have been plagued by injury, and haunted by the most difficult jump ever performed in pairs ice skating – the triple axle.
The glory days of Katarina Witt seem an awfully long time ago – with the star herself now serving on the judging panel of Britain’s Dancing on Ice television show.
Although Savchenko and Szolkowy have a world class coach Ingo Steuer, who won the pairs competition in 1997, his involvement has brought with it a particularly German problem.
Because he was an informer for the infamous East German secret police, the Stasi, he cannot get financial help from the German skating union.
This means that to pay his fees, his skaters have to earn money in commercial ice shows, which disrupts their training schedule.
Elke Treitz, vice president of the German Skating Union told The Local, “He is one of the best pairs trainers in the world.” But she said a law prevented the union contributing any money because it is publicly funded and he has a Stasi past.
Merging the east and west teams to produce a united German approach was not simple, said Berlin-based figure skating trainer Viola Striegler.
She said the east German sports system scouted out potential champions when they were very young, took them out of school and sent them to special intensive training centres. “They had a very different way of training. It was extremely systematic,” she told The Local.
She also praised Steuer, who, despite his past as an informer, is treated normally by most involved in the sport, she said.
What counts more is the fact that he has brought Savchenko and Szolkowy to the brink of managing the triple-axle jump.
They nearly got it perfect on Wednesday in the short programme competition – Szolkowy successfully threw Savchenko spinning into the air and she managed the three-and-a-half revolutions before landing – but did so on both feet rather than one.
Until now only one team – two-time former US champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin – has landed the jump in competition.
Yet the tricky move, while covering the pair in glory, failed to get them on the medals table – they made Olympic and international history when they landed it at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, but ended up in 7th place.
Savchenko and Szolkowy are hoping to revive the days of German figure skating glory on Friday – but will face tough competition in the form of China’s Olympic silver medallists Pang Qing and Tong Jian who were hot on their heels on Wednesday, and Japan’s Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran who came third.
Whether they give the triple axle another shot remains to be seen – and even if they manage to pull it off, the entire package will have to work.