SOCHI, Russia -- Maybe it was the karma created by the presence of the creators.
Or maybe it simply was that Russian pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are just way too good for everyone else when they skate without mistakes.
Volosozhar and Trankov, the reigning world champions, continued to play a pairs skating game of one-upsmanship in which they are the only contestants.
"They are the best," Lyudmila Protopopov said.
She and her husband, Oleg, were among the Tuesday night spectators at the Iceberg who saw Volosozhar and Trankov set a world record in the short program for the fourth time this season.
After failing to win a pairs medal in 2010, the Russians are hoping to re-establish the pairs hegemony begun almost accidentally 50 years ago by the self-taught Protopopovs.
In 1964 and 1968, they won the first two of 12 straight pairs gold medals for the Soviet Union and Russia. They later moved to Lake Placid, N.Y. She at 78 and he 81, they still perform occasionally in shows.
Trankov was aware of their presence, and he hoped to repay the Protopopovs for making the effort to get here.
"For sure it is very important to give Russia back this (winning) tradition," Trankov said, "because (the Protopovs) were here in the seats, cheering for us, coming specially to watch the pairs skating.
"Fifty years ago, they beat a German team in the Olympic Games. Now it is like a new circle in the story.''
With a score of 84.17, a slight improvement on 83.98 from last month's European Championships, Volosozhar and Trankov built a lead over four-time world-champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany. That means the Russians likely can afford one substantial error in Wednesday's free skate and still win.
Another Russian pair, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, was a surprising third at 75.21.
"This is a big breakthrough," Klimov said.
For what it is worth, Volosozhar and Trankov have pushed the short program world record up more than seven points since September. Their performance to Khachaturian's "Masquerade Waltz" has become more powerful and emotional throughout the season.
"In figure skating, it is nothing to have records," Trankov said. "There is no prize money and no medals for them. I don't think it's a big deal how many records you have. The most important thing is the amount of medals you have."
He and Volosozhar have stumbled badly in their last two free skates, at the Grand Prix Final and European Championships. The first allowed the Germans to win; the second left Volosozhar and Trankov second to Stolbova and Klimov in the free skate, but they still won the European title because the Germans withdrew when Savchenko fell ill.
"We haven't lost it yet," Szolkowy said.
It was, overall, a night of fine pairs skating, with the leading U.S. team, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, acquitting itself well. None of the 63 individual grade of execution marks they got from the nine judges was negative.
Castelli and Shnapir came into the Olympics with a modest goal, one that reflects the low standing of U.S. pairs in the figure skating world, with no Olympic medal since 1988.
The two-time U.S. champions are hoping to break into the top 10, and they put that within reach after their personally strong ninth in the short program.
"Obviously, this gives us a lot of confidence going forward," Shnapir said.
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