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Record-breaking pairs short program sets stage for free skate

The final figure skating competition of the Winter Olympics kicked off Friday with the pairs short program.

BEIJING, China — Sui Wenjing and Han Chan of China shattered their own world record for a short program at the Beijing Games on Friday night, giving them the narrowest of leads over Russian rivals Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov heading into the free skate.

Sui and Han, who won the short program at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games before settling for the silver medal, scored 84.41 points to their orchestral suite from the film “Mission: Impossible 2.” That topped their record of 82.83 points that they set during the short program of the team competition earlier this month.

Tarasova and Morozov, coached in part by the controversial Eteri Tutberidze, also would have broken the record with their short program. Instead, the fourth-place finishers in Pyeongchang were 16-hundredths of a point behind.

World champs Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov were next with 82.76 points, while Aleksandra Boikova and and Dmitrii Kozlovskii had 78.59, giving the Russian Olympic Committee three of the top four heading into Saturday night.

Tutberidze was back rink-side for the pairs competition hours after she and the Russian staff were criticized by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach for their cold, callous attitude toward 15-year-old Kamila Valieva following the women's free skate the previous night.

Tutberidze began helping Tarasova and Morozov at the beginning of this season.

Credit: AP
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, of China, compete in the pairs short program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“It was chilling to see this,” Bach said during his Friday news conference. “Rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance.”

Brandon Frazier and Alexa Knierim, who were instrumental in helping the U.S. win team silver to open the Beijing Games, threw down one of their best short programs after a nearly two-week wait to compete again.

Frazier, who withdrew from nationals after contracting COVID-19, and Knierim, competing in her second Olympics, were nearly perfect from their opening triple twist lift on to a rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.” They were the second team to perform and scored 74.23 points, a standard that stood through most of the night.

“We've trained so hard to endure whatever is brought to us," Knierim said, "and I feel like today we did a good job of staying focused, no matter how we felt, and just delivered the best we could with what we were given.”

Credit: AP
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, of the United States, react after the pairs short program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Their teammates, Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, were just a tenth of a point back after a marvelous short program set to “The White Crow” by British composer Ilah Eshkeri. Cain-Gribble literally danced her way off the ice with LeDuc, the first nonbinary American athlete to compete at the Winter Games.

Credit: AP
Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc, of the United States, compete in the pairs short program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Among those giving chase were Germany's Nolan Seegert and Minerva Fabienne Hase, who finally got on the ice after he tested positive for COVID-19 in Beijing. They missed 10 days of practice and had to withdraw from the team event.

If their luck was bad, Mark Magyar and Ioulia Chtchetinina had worse. They had been practicing throughout the Olympics, only for him to test positive and forcing them to withdraw just before the start of their competition.

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