Gangneung (South Korea) (AFP) – Chinese duo Sui Wenjing and Han Cong seduced the judges and fans on St Valentine’s Day in the Olympic pairs on Wednesday.
World champions Sui and Han produced a personal best to lead the short programme ahead of Thursday’s free skate.
Their routine to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah earned 82.39 points to give them a slender cushion.
Sui disclosed that nerves had almost got the better of her.
“I was very 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 our routine I realised there’s all there is to it.”
Less than a point adrift after delivering their own career best came Evgenia Tarasoza and Vladimir Morozov.
The double European champions are riding a crest of a wave after helping Olympic Athletes from Russia claim their first silver of the Games in the team event.
Team gold went to Canada, in large part thanks to the efforts of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who sit third.
Radford, the first openly gay Olympic gold medallist, and Duhamel, are almost five points back after their dance to the U2 anthem With Or Without You.
Duhamel had a mini-mobile drama before skating, dropping her phone into a toilet bowl on her way to the rink.
“That’s right. No better way to humble me before the biggest skate of my life,” she tweeted.
She later marvelled at how the standard in pairs had sky rocketed.
– ‘ridiculous mistake’ –
“The fact that you need to score over 63 to make the long programme just shows that. Not too long ago, we scored 63 points and it got us fifth in the world in the short programme.”
In fourth came Germany’s Aljona Savchenko, hoping to finally hit the pairs jackpot at her fifth Winter Games, with her French-born partner Bruno Massot.
They hold the world record in free skate but will need a huge performance on Thursday to trouble the top three after Massot downgraded a triple salchow to a double.
“It was not hard, physically at least. I don’t know what happened,” Massot said.
“We came for the gold, not for another medal. These are the Olympic Games, that happen only every four years and I cannot accept that I have made this ridiculous mistake.”
North Korean skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik were celebrating the best performance of their lives, finishing 11th and joining the top 16 in going through to the free skate.
Supported by the 200-plus strong band of North Korean cheerleaders, Ryom and Kim wowed the crowd with an excellent execution of their short programme to the Beatles classic A Day In The Life.
The judges awarded them 69.40 points, smashing their previous highest score of 65.25, the crowd gave them top marks with Kim hailing the enthusiastic support.
“Now that we have competed, (we could see) how strong our Korean people can be when we are together,” the 25-year-old said.
“We are one people sharing the same bloodline.”