By Gina Capellazzi, website administrator
World Champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han did not participate in the team event at the Olympic games to focus on their individual event. That decision has paid off so far as Sui and Han won the pairs short program Wednesday at the Gangneung Ice Arena in their Olympic debut and are the leaders heading into the pairs’ free skate Thursday. Sui and Han skated a breathtaking “Hallelujah” short program, completing side-by-side triple toes, a throw triple flip that had great height and distance and a triple twist with Sui’s arm over her head. They earned a personal best score of 82.39.
“I was emotional today. Even when I was putting on my make-up, I was already crying. I just felt very nervous. But after we got on the ice and finished out routine I realized there’s all there is to it,” Sui said. “We missed the last Olympics and it was a hard journey to get here too. I had surgery in the process, so I really think that everyone who is able to stand here is a hero,” she said.
In addition to missing most of last season while Sui recovered from foot surgery, just a few weeks before PyeongChang Olympics, Sui suffered another setback as she injured her leg in a practice accident and needed 12 stitches.
Sitting less than a point behind the Chinese pair are World bronze medalists and European Champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who wrapped up the pairs short program with a strong performance, just four days after skating one in the team event.
“We put the medals away and we focused again as if we just had come to the competition,” Tarasova shared about the quick turnaround.
Their short program was highlighted by a huge triple twist and throw triple loop to post a new personal best score of 81.68.
Looking forward to the free skate, Tarasova said: “We will not think about the difference in points and will focus on the free skating. It is a new day.”
Two-time World Champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, of Canada, are in third place with a short program score of 76.82. The pair, who won gold in the team event, put out a clean program, that included a side-by-side triple Lutz and throw triple Lutz. Though already Olympic champions in the team event, Duhamel and Radford, who have said this will be their last Olympics, are wanting that individual gold medal.
“We felt better than we anticipated yesterday when we came back to train. Of course, you are on the highest high of your life and all of a sudden you are back down to reality and you need to compete again. So I am really proud how we handled the practice yesterday and how we approached today,” Duhamel shared. “I thought of it (the team gold medal) yesterday for a split second. I was stroking around the ice and thought, ‘I am an Olympic champion’. Then I went, ‘I want another Olympic medal, get back to work’.”
World silver medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, of Germany, are in fourth place with a score of 76.59. In their short program, Massot doubled his side-by-side triple salchow, which was a costly mistake for the pair, who is now looking to make some lost ground in the free skate and get on the podium.
“These are the Olympic Games, that happens only every four years and I cannot accept that I have made this ridiculous mistake,” Massot admitted.
This is Savchenko’s fifth Olympics. She is a two-time Olympic bronze medalist with her former partner Robin Szolkowy. This is Massot’s first Olympics.
China’s Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang skated a beautiful “Swan Lake” short program and are in in fifth place with 75.58 points followed by France’s Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres, who scored a 75.34. Italy’s Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek earned a short program score of 74.50 and are in seventh place.
Another highlight of the short program was the performance by 2018 Four Continents bronze medalists Tae Ok Ryom and Ju Sik Kim, of North Korea, who erupted the crowd inside the Gangneung Ice Arena. They earned a personal best score of 69.40 and are in 11th heading to the free skate.
Newly crowned Olympic bronze medalists and two-time U.S. Champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim finished the short program in 14th place, which was enough to qualify them for the free skate Thursday. The husband and wife duo scored 65.55 points in he short program.
“Chris and I said to each other before we skated, ‘Enjoy everything out there. Even if we make mistakes, let’s be proud of the mistakes because we are here and that’s an accomplishment’,” Scimeca-Knierim said. “We are not upset at all with the score or the way we skated; we are just honored to be here.”
The top 16 pairs advanced to the free skate that will take place February 15 at 10:30 a.m. in Korea and 8:30 p.m. eastern Feb. 14.
To see more results from the pairs’ short program, click here.