Ice Network

Duhamel, Radford stay hot with first-place short

Stolbova, Klimov right behind in second place; Sui, Han sit third
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Entering with momentum from their first-place finishes at Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy, Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford jumped in front in Barcelona, earning 74.50 points in their short program to "Un peu plus haut" by Ginette Reno. -Getty Images

Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford topped the pairs short program in Barcelona after a stellar performance that earned them a new season's best score of 74.50 points. Russia's Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the 2014 Olympic and world silver medalists, stand in second place with 72.33 points, also a new season's best. China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han delivered a flawless performance as well and currently sit in third place with 66.66 points.

The stands were packed in the Barcelona Convention Center when the pairs started their short program to open the 2014 Grand Prix Final. The good thing about a relatively novice audience in terms of figure skating exposure is that they cheer enthusiastically at first glance, encouraging every move as if it is a world premiere. Which it is to their eyes, and they cheered and encouraged all teams throughout.

Many rised spontaneously at the end of Duhamel's and Radford's emotionally packed and perfect program. The team landed their triple twist, their side-by-side triple Lutzes, as well as their throw triple Lutz. They were the only pair to opt for the two latter elements -- and, of course, landed them successfully. Their spin, spiral, step sequences and lift were rated Level 4, and they scored positive Grades of Execution (GOE) on each of their seven elements.

"Everything we do is within our possibilities," Radford said. "We want to push our limits, but all our elements are fully consistent."

Duhamel landed her throw triple Lutz right in the axis of the rink. Had this been tennis, the way Radford "served" his partner would have been deemed an ace. Most of all, Duhamel and Radford managed to emphasize their emotions through their technique, rather than around their technique, a feat only the greats can achieve.

"We'd love to end our free program as happy as we were when we ended our short program," she concluded.

Duhamel and Radford had the best score of the evening for both the technical elements and the components. After the end of their press conference, Duhamel exploded with joy when she discovered that the team had been awarded a 10 for choreography and composition by one judge.

"This is the first 10 we have gotten in our career!" she exclaimed.

"I'm going to save this sheet!" Radford added, showing the typical green sheet of detailed result where the 10 appeared.

Stolbova and Klimov also delivered a flawless performance to their Chinese folk dance to music from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. They landed a high triple twist (Level 3), followed by side-by-side triple toes and a throw triple Lutz. Their spin, spiral, lift and step sequences were rated Level 4, just like Duhamel's and Radford's.

"Today, we skated OK," Klimov said. "We did what we do in practice."

Their interpretation was as powerful and well mastered as ever. But the Canadians' program was simply stronger and denser, both with technical difficulties and emotions. Stolbova and Klimov will start the free skate with a 2.17-point deficit to the Canadians.

Both Duhamel and Radford, and Stolbova and Klimov, reached the 70-point bar. The three next teams -- all from China -- achieved more than 60 points. Sui and Han also delivered a near flawless performance and are in third place, but they are almost eight points behind the Canadians.

"It was not very good. I put a hand down on my jump," Sui said.

"We feel very sad. It's not the level we usually skate and train." Han said.

The bottom line: Their side-by-side triple toes recieved a -0.80-point GOE.

Their program, which they skated to "Stray Cat Strut" by the Stray Cats in a powerful western style, immediately grasped the audience's attention. All of their rated elements -- spin, step sequence, spiral, lift and twist -- earned a Level 4, the only team to achieve such a feat in the short.

Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin's program to "Yulunga (Spirit Dance)" by Dead Can Dance, featured side-by-side triple toes, a triple twist, and a throw triple loop. The world junior champions were first to skate in the Final. The Spanish audience's first taste of senior skating was a flawless performance. They amassed 62.71 points, a new season's best, and currently sit in fourth place.

"We are happy because we did our best and did not make any mistakes," Yu said. "But we could do better and give more expression."

Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang were not prepared to experience such an off night. They skated a delightfully crafted program to "Character Dances" from The Nutcracker by Peter Tchaikovsky, but the dream ended when Peng fell on their opening side-by-side triple toe loops. The team's levels were not at their peak either, as their triple twist and step sequence were rated Level 3. The Cup of China gold medalists earned 62.46 points, far from their season's best.

"Our score today was very low. My partner injured herself in the fall, so we'll have to be cautious at practice tomorrow," Zhang said.

They sit in fifth place.

Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov had an even tougher showing, as Kavaguti fell during their side-by-side triple toes, and again on their throw triple loop. Contrary to most of their competitors, Kavaguti and Smirnov's practice session had been sub-par. The romantic melody they elected to skate to "Méditation" from Thaïs by Jules Massenet this year did earn them competitive component scores, but their technical marks were not enough. Their total of 55.97 points, seven points below fifth place, seems like an uncatchable gap.

"Remembering previous competitions, I would say that the Grand Prix Final is just not our competition," Smirnov concluded.