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Finally on top: Duhamel, Radford claim world crown

Canadian duo takes world gold after two straight bronze-medal finishes
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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford put the finishing touches on a perfect season, claiming Canada's first world pairs title in 14 years. (The last team to do it was Jamie Salé and David Pelletier in 2001.) They won the free skate with a score of 144.55 and took the gold with a 221.53-point competition total. -Getty Images

After two consecutive bronze medals, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford ascended to the top spot of the podium at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai on Thursday, becoming the first Canadian pair since Jamie Salé and David Pelletier in 2001 to win gold.

The Quebec-based skaters, who train under Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte, earned 221.53 points, defeating young Chinese stars Wenjing Sui and Cong Han by 7.41 points.

Skating to a medley from the British rock group Muse, the Canadian champions opened their free skate with an excellent triple twist, followed by fine side-by-side triple Lutzes. Duhamel put a hand down on the ice on the landing of a throw quad Salchow, but the move still earned 6.43 points. Radford almost fell on a camel combination spin.

The other elements, including side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe combinations and a throw triple Lutz, were very good. Their program component scores averaged 8.9 points.  

"I have no words for the first time in my life," the usually talkative Duhamel said.

"We always dreamed big, and some dreams are so big that you probably never imagine them actually happening," Radford said. "Now, it is happening to us and it is hard to tell if this is a dream or reality. The passion for skating motivated us to continue after (placing seventh in) Sochi.

"We did not have a perfect skate today and knew that we did not need to be perfect to win," he continued. "But we fought until the very end. When the music finished, we were proud of ourselves, and that was our goal."

Duhamel and Radford, who are 29 and 30, respectively, plan to continue competing next season and would like to compete at the 2018 Olympics.

"For next year, we plan to make our quad throw more consistent and come out with another new element, which is still a secret," Duhamel said. "You will see it at our fall events."

All three Chinese pairs gave near-flawless performances, showing very good nerves in front of the large, enthusiastic home crowd. They placed second, third and fourth.

Sui and Han opened their free, set to Tchaikovsky's dramatic and powerful "Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, Op. 32," with a superb quad twist that earned 10.10 points. Their two throw triples were excellent and got several +3 Grades of Execution (GOEs), and they placed second in the free to win the silver medal with 212.14 points.

"We have no pressure; we are not thinking about being the next top team," Sui said. "We still regard ourselves as young skaters, just as usual. Next year, we plan to include a quad throw Salchow in our free program."

Qing Pang and Jian Tong, who have participated in 16 world championships since 1999, won the bronze medal with 212.77 points in what they called the final competitive performance of their careers. They have planned to marry for two years but postponed their wedding due to their skating obligations.

In spite of having serious knee problems for years, Tong landed a triple toe loop when it counted most. The only major mistake came when he singled the second Axel in their planned double Axel-double Axel combination. Their throw triple Salchow was huge, gaining GOEs of +3 from all nine judges. All of the other elements were excellent and displayed the special elegance for which they are famous.

"This is the last time we will compete," Tong said. "To be honest, I did not want it to happen so soon, but it is time to say good-bye. We are both 35 years old and will continue to do shows and coach and promote figure skating in China. We will go back to training and become judges. We have to improve our language skills. We plan to develop figure skating clubs in China."

Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang placed fourth with 206.63 points. Their quad twist was great, but Peng almost fell on the double Axel. Everything else was technically first class, but the program components scores were lower than those of the top three pairs.

European champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia finished fifth with 198.91 points after making two serious mistakes. Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov skated a clean program with excellent technical elements but were tripped up by weaker presentation and placed sixth with 198.46 points.    

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim placed seventh with 185.81 points.

The highlight of their free to Gershwin's An American in Paris was their superb quad twist, which gained one +3 GOE and three +2 GOEs. Scimeca's triple Salchow was a bit shaky, and Knierim singled the first Axel of their planned double Axel-double Axel combination. Their three lifts and throw triple flip were very good, but Scimeca touched her hand down on the landing of the throw triple loop.

"We performed as if we were tired," Knierim said. "There were good parts, but we had some technical errors. The quad twist was great. We are really happy about that. We're not thrilled about the other errors, but we feel we did represent Team USA well."

"We can improve on every aspect of our skating; there are no limits to our potential," Scimeca said. "We are going to work on our interpretation and skating skills. We need to be more consistent on our elements. We have them -- we need to do them.

"We want to continue to be U.S. champions and make the 2018 Olympic team," she continued. "We're hoping we will be selected for the World Team Trophy. It gives us another opportunity to skate clean programs."

U.S. silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier dropped from eighth to 12th place, earning 172.51 points at their first world championships. They opened their free to The Lion King soundtrack with a good triple twist and a throw triple loop, but Frazier doubled an intended triple Salchow and Denney fell on a double Axel. They skated with good speed, and their three lifts were impressive.

"For it being our first worlds, it's all a learning experience," Denney said. "We are grateful to have the experience of our first worlds. Our skate could have been much better."

"Anyone would be disappointed to come in well trained and not put out the free skate they know they could," Frazier said. "It's been a great season overall, but today we didn't get into it the way we normally (would). It's disappointing.

"This season has been a big step up: We won a medal on the Grand Prix (silver at Skate America) and made the world team," he continued. "The step now is to perform better at each competition: cleaner programs, better elements, higher program components."

Shanghai Slings: The pairs free skate was a highlight for the Chinese public. The event was sold out with more than 17,000 spectators, and there was even a black market of ticket sellers in front of the arena entrance ... International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta gave a press conference during which he confirmed that the International Olympic Committee will decide in June 2015 if a figure skating team event and a synchronized skating competition will be included in the 2018 Olympics.