By Pritha Sarkar
HELSINKI (Reuters) - A nerveless and haunting short program by Evgenia Medvedeva kept the Russian teenager on track to become the first skater since American Michelle Kwan in 2001 to win back-to-back women's titles at the world championships on Wednesday.
While Medvedeva was the shining light in a high-quality women's contest, the pairs competition turned into a survival of the fittest as Eric Radford's hip-muscle injury effectively ended his hopes of claiming a hat-trick of world titles with Meagan Duhamel.
Radford and Duhamel were resigned to losing their crown after being left languishing in seventh place with a score of 72.67.
A sliced knee, however, could not prevent Evgenia Tarasova and her partner Vladimir Morozov from being within touching distance of overhauling short program leaders Wenjing Sui and Cong Han when they compete in Thursday's free skate.
The Chinese duo take a narrow 1.39-point lead over Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot.
Tarasova, who was unsure if she would be able to compete after Morozov’s skate sliced into her knee during Wednesday's morning practice, was hailed "a hero" by her partner after finishing third with 79.37, less than half a point behind the Germans.
At 17, Medvedeva is one of the youngest competitors in the field but after arriving in Helsinki by stringing together nine successive wins, and with world record scores to boot, the Russian is already considered a goliath in the sport.
She preserved that reputation by soaring above her challengers with a score of 79.01, which was a fraction lower than the all-time best of 79.21 she earned at the Grand Prix Final in December.
Medvedeva's stirring performance to 'River Flows in You' allowed her to open up a 3.03 point lead over Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond in the final world championships before next year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
In contrast, the gap between Osmond's third-placed team mate Gabrielle Daleman and seventh-placed American Ashley Wagner was 3.14.
The leading trio were among seven skaters to score more than 69 points, which led Wagner to declare: "It's an awesome ladies night tonight. There is a historic number of scores over 69.
"I'm in a fighting position for a medal and to be one of the 69-pointers is something great."
With Anna Pogorilaya, Karen Chen and Maria Sotskova filling the slots from fourth to sixth, the battle for the minor medals will be an intense one when the women return for Friday's free skate.
However, it will be reigning champion Medvedeva who will be out to prove that she is no one-hit wonder.
In recent years many of her countrywomen have shone brightly on the global stage for one season before fading just as quickly into the background.
That list includes 2014 Olympic gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.
Medvedeva, however, has bucked that trend by "having fun" during her performances.
"I don't feel any pressure ....because I am completely in tune with my mind before going out to skate," said Medvedeva, whose winning run started at the December 2015 Grand Prix Final.
She is also not one to follow the masses when it comes to her routines.
While her breathless rivals opted to get their difficult jumps out of the way within the opening minute of their short skates, a composed Medvedeva slowly built up the momentum before dazzling the judges with her effortless triple flip-triple toeloop combination that was followed by two further foot-perfect jumps.
Dismissing suggestions that her routine lacked balance, Medvedeva said: "In figure skating you need to show your soul... I do the jumps in the second half because you get more points. I have no plans to change that.
"I'm now feeling confident going into Friday."
(Editing by Ed Osmond and Toby Davis)