BEIJING (Reuters) -After a day filled with high drama and heartbreak for one 15-year-old Russian figure skater, China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong brought joy back to the Beijing Games rink with a mesmerising skate to shatter the world record in the short programme on Friday.
The pairs event is capping the figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics in a departure from tradition – the higher-profile women’s singles usually go last – with host nation China fielding a strong contender for the title in Sui and Han.
Silver medallists at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, the pair broke their own world record in the short programme with a score of 84.41 points, drawing cheers and applause from a sparse but ecstatic home crowd at the Capital Indoor Stadium.
“We have support in the venue, in front of the TV, all the people cheering for us empower us to perform better,” Sui said.
Competing at a familiar venue at home also helped, her partner added.
From the moment the pair, who have been partners since they were children, landed their soaring triple toeloops in unison, they captivated the crowd with a near flawless routine. They executed their step sequence and jumps in perfect harmony to a score that included music from ‘Mission Impossible’.
A win by the hometown favourites would provide a welcome relief to local fans and Games hosts China after Russian teen Kamila Valieva’s doping scandal and tearful fall from glory a day earlier left an unpleasant trail in their wake.
Russians took second and third places in the short programmes, also marking their season’s bests. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov scored 84.25, ahead of world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov’s 82.76 points.
In a high quality contest, both the Chinese leaders and Tarasova and Morozov eclipsed the previous short programme record of 82.83 that Sui and Han had set during last week’s team competition.
Tarasova seemed close to tears as she held Morozov in a tight embrace at the end of their routine to Galatea and Pygmalion, having beautifully executed a number of high-flying elements and perfectly synchronised spins.
Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, European champions in 2020, were also among the medal contenders but missed out on a top three finish on Friday after Boikova put her right hand down on throw triple flip. They trailed third-placed Mishina and Galliamov by over four points with 78.59.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber)