By Steve Keating

LONDON, Ontario, March 13 (Reuters) – Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took a step towards ending the reign of four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy by grabbing the lead after the pairs short program on Wednesday.

Beaten into second place by the German duo at the previous two world championships, Volosozhar and Trankov put themselves on pole position for Friday’s free skate with a personal best score of 75.84.

After a bizarre fall by Trankov during the short program at last year’s worlds in Nice, France, the Russian pair avoided any such calamities on Wednesday, turning in a sophisticated skate to music from “The Godfather” that delighted fans and judges.

Top spot on the podium was expected to be a two-way battle between the Russians and Germans but home ice provided an early edge for Canada with Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who have never medaled at an Olympics or world championships, sneaking into second ahead of Savchenko and Szolkowy.

“From the moment we stepped on the ice the crowd was amazing and we were expecting that,” said Radford. “As we took our starting position I think we both felt really confident and ready to do what we had to do.”

At the end of their robust and crowd-pleasing skate to “La Boheme,” Duhamel was left jumping up and down on the ice in absolute delight knowing they had delivered something special.

The judges agreed, handing the Canadian’s a personal best mark of 73.61 that put them ahead of Savchenko and Szolkowy, who were handed a score 73.47 for their uninspired performance.

“The points may say season’s best but for us it is not the best,” lamented Szolkowy. “Maybe from outside the people can say that is the best they have seen but for us not.”

With Savchenko fighting sinus problems the four-time world champions have been forced to the sidelines, missing valuable training and competitions and failing to qualify for the Grand Prix final.

At the same, with the Sochi Olympics beckoning, Volosozhar and Trankov have been on the rise going unbeaten since finishing runners-up to Savchenko and Szolkowy in Nice and finally getting the better of the German pair for the first time at the European championships in January.

“We don’t feel big pressure we feel only the love of the Russian people, everybody just cheer for us trying to help,” said Trankov. “We just trying to do our best our goal is to give back gold to Russia.”

China’s twice world champions Pang Qing and Tong Jian, competing in their 15th world championships, may be grizzled veterans of the ice wars but still were able to draw gasps from the crowd with their daring lifts and throws.

But the Chinese pair’s Paso Doble was also seriously flawed and at some points sloppy, leaving them well back in sixth.