Ice Network

Duhamel, Radford ride masterful short to lead

Chinese teams hold three of top five spots heading into free skate
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Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford look as if they will put a wrap on an undefeated season after a sterling outing in Shanghai on Wednesday. The reigning two-time world bronze medalists scored 76.98 points (just 0.03 short of their career best) for their "Un peu plus haut" short to take a big lead on the rest of the field. -Getty Images

Favorites Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada used their technical superiority to take a four-point lead over Chinese veterans Qing Pang and Jian Tong at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai on Wednesday.

The Canadians, who have won world bronze medals the last two seasons, earned 76.98 points for their short featuring the event's only side-by-side triple Lutzes, as well as a throw triple Lutz. All seven elements were clean and strong, gaining Grades of Execution (GOEs) of mostly +2. They earned Level 4's across the board except for a Level 3 triple twist.

Duhamel and Radford's interpretation of Quebec singer Ginette Reno's "Un peu plus haut" ("A Little Higher") was convincing because their personalities match Reno's strong vocals. The components averaged around 8.9 points, and three judges awarded 9.5 points for performance.

"I feel very excited and very proud," Radford said. "We were pretty nervous going into the short program. The crowd was kind of still alive from the applause for the Chinese pair (Pang and Tong) when we took our starting position. Even when the music started, they were still kind of going."

"When the music starts, it always brings us back together, and I felt, 'OK, now I am good,'" Duhamel said. "It's comforting when you hear your music on the ice."  

Pang and Tong sit second with 72.59 points. The 35-year-old skaters competed at their first worlds in 1999, and won the title in 2006 and 2010. They retired after the 2014 Sochi Olympics but decided to return because this year's event is in their home country.

The tango short program they performed at their first competition back from their break, the 2015 Four Continents Championships in February, did not get a positive response, so they opted to skate to the romantic "Moonflower" by Secret Garden instead. The move paid off with the highest program components scores in the field.

Tong, who suffers from knee trouble, has had problems with the triple toe loop for years. But this time, he landed it cleanly -- and so did Pang. The other elements were excellent, especially a huge triple throw loop that gained seven +3 GOEs and the lift, which looked extremely easy despite its technical difficulty.

"We changed our program just three weeks ago, but I am happy that it turned out well with the audience," Pang said. "I think this competition will give me a very good memory."

Tong announced that after Shanghai, the team would retire yet again.

"This competition is very important for us," he said. "We don't want to make errors, because this is the last time for us to compete."  

China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who are, respectively, 16 and 13 years younger than their teammates, also gave an excellent performance and sit third with 71.63 points.

Their highly entertaining program, set to "Stray Cat Strut" by Brian Setzer, was rewarded with components of about 8.2. Standing ovations are not customary in China. If they were, the 17,000 spectators in the sold-out rink certainly would have given them one, because the skaters got a huge applause.  

All seven elements were clean, gaining mainly +2 GOEs. The four elements with levels all earned Level 4, including the triple twist.

"This year, we had all our competitions abroad, so it is the first time competing in China this season," Sui said. "The audience encouraged me a lot."

"The atmosphere here was very good, but I felt pressure because we wanted to do our best and show it to the Chinese audience," Han said. "I am proud that China is hosting the world championships for the first time."

Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov are fourth with 71.59 points after a flawless performance. Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang sit fifth with 69.67 points. Their throw, twist and lift were excellent, but they lacked a bit of elegance. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia, who are coached by Andrei Hekla and German five-time world champion Robin Szolkowy, are sixth with 67.71 points after a clean and powerful program.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, who train in Colorado Springs, Colorado, under Dalilah Sappenfield, sit seventh with 65.56 points. Skating to "El Tango de Roxanne" from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, they opened with the best triple twist of the field, which was rewarded with four GOEs of +3 and five of +2.

Knierim landed his triple Salchow, which has been a challenge for him to perform cleanly at points this season, and although Scimeca's triple looked a bit shaky, they gained full marks for the jumps. Their other elements were all good, with highlights being the lift and death spiral. 

"We had to fight through some of it and we had little errors here and there, but overall, it was great and our season's best, so we are happy," Knierim said.

"It's motivating for the future to fight through a program and execute the way we did today," Scimeca said. "We would like to be in the top six overall. We know we have to skate a near-perfect long to make that happen, but we believe in ourselves."

U.S. silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier are eighth with 61.32 points. Six of their elements were clean, including an excellent lift, but Denney put a hand down on the landing of the triple Salchow.

"Since Four Continents, we trained super, super hard coming into this competition," Denney said. "We can rely on our training and have confidence."

"We're very excited to be able to perform at our first worlds," Frazier said. "To put out a short like that, we have a lot of things to be proud of. It wasn't perfect but a huge improvement from Four Continents. Overall, the feeling was just good. It was a big step in our career."

The pair is now coached by Ingo Steuer, the German who led Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy to five world titles and two Olympic medals. Previously, John Zimmerman was their primary coach, and Steuer had shared coaching duties with him.

"I like to work with them very much because they are very willing to learn," Steuer said. "There are no big discussions with them, but they always take my advice and try to adapt it on the ice as quickly as possible."

Shanghai Slings: This is the 16th time Pang and Tong have competed at the world championships. They did not compete in 2014. They have won two gold, one silver and two bronze medals ... There are five quadruple elements planned for the pairs free skate. Duhamel and Radford, and Kavaguti and Smirnov plan throw quad Salchows, while Sui and Han, Peng and Zhang, and Scimeca and Knierim plan quad twists. "We are excited to perform our quad twist in China," Scimeca said. "There are two Chinese teams who do it so it's an honor to do it alongside them in their country." ... In addition to Duhamel and Radford, Italians Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek plan side-by-side triple Lutzes in the free skate.