Ice Network

Sui, Han in front of Canadians after masterful short

Trankov ribs young team about off-ice status; Duhamel, Radford second
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Wenjing Sui and Cong Han gave a simply stunning performance of their "Spanish Romance" short Friday, earning Grades of Execution ranging from 1.07 to 2.10 for their seven elements. The Chinese pair opened up a 2.67-point lead over world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford heading into Saturday's free skate. -Getty Images

The press conferences are getting tougher for Cong Han than actual competition.

At Skate America in October, his partner, Wenjing Sui, made it clear to reporters that, although their partnership was going well, they were definitely not dating. On Friday, after the young duo won the short program at TD Garden in Boston, she punctured her partner's ego a bit more.

Asked about the chemistry in their Latin-themed routine to the guitar piece "Spanish Romance," the cheeky Sui said, "He talks too much every day. He just feels like my father, so there isn't any chemistry."

"That's a joke," Han weakly explained.

Maxim Trankov, who placed third in the short with partner (and wife) Tatiana Volosozhar, couldn't resist.

"First comes skating chemistry, and then comes babies," he said.

Whatever their off-ice status, Sui and Han shone on the ice during their dynamic short at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. Every element, including their triple twist and throw triple flip, was big and clean. Both skaters, especially Sui, sold the choreography and played to the crowd. They earned 80.85 points, a new personal best, to grab a 2.67-point lead over defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Olympic champions Volosozhar and Trankov are nearly four points behind the leaders heading into Saturday's free skate.

Sui and Han, who won silver at this event last season, have always been excellent technicians, and their free skate will include a quadruple twist and throw quadruple salchow. But they have also come into their own as performers, captivating crowds with their energetic, polished style.

"About three years ago, we started to train with (2010 Olympic pairs champion) Hongbo Zhao," Han said. "At that time, we felt our skating had some shortcomings. We just decided to follow any advice he had, and he told us many things about how to cooperate with your partner to improve unison."

Duhamel and Radford also set a new personal best with their near-clean outing to Ewan McGregor's rendition of Elton John's "Your Song." Their routine was marred only by a slight touch-down on the landing of a throw triple lutz. The Canadians hit their best side-by-side triple lutzes of the season to earn 78.18 points.

It was a satisfying performance for the Canadians, who have struggled this season to recapture the form that led them to the 2015 world title.

"We got sick of finishing that short program and feeling frustrated," Duhamel said. "After Four Continents -- although I know I was sick there -- enough was enough. I didn't care if I was upside down on my triple lutz, I was landing it."

"I think this was the best we ever felt before stepping on the ice (this season) and getting into our starting position," Radford said. "We finally found that focus we had last year, that comfort zone we haven't been able to achieve this season. We're going to try to find that same frame of mind and head space for the free skate."

Bruno Marcotte, the team's coach and Duhamel's husband, said a heart-to-heart talk after disappointing performances at the Grand Prix Final and the Canadian championships helped turn things around.

"They had no goals, and these guys are like best friends," Marcotte said. "All their lives it was like, 'Let's chase, let's chase.' And this year, it was like, 'What's next?' So the fact that they feel like underdogs again helped them push to another level and gave them different goals."

Volosozhar and Trankov's short, choreographed by Nikoli Morozov to "Nagada Sang Dhol" from a 2013 Bollywood film, is a departure for the couple, who usually stick to classical fare or Broadway and Hollywood soundtracks.

The Russians found the fast-paced music's beat and stayed in Bollywood character throughout, but Volosozhar two-footed the landing of their throw triple flip and several of their elements gained Level 3's instead of their usual Level 4's. They earned 77.13 points, which fell below the season's high they set at the 2016 European Championships.

"We skated good. We are happy about our skating, but we had one bad mistake on the throw and we are a little surprised with our levels," Trankov said. "It is the first time in a long time we got a Level 3 in the twist. We are a little bit disappointed about this, but we skated with a good mood, and we saw the standing ovation of the audience, and that was most important."

It is the first time they have competed at the world championships since winning the title in 2013. Trankov had shoulder surgery in November 2013, and they sat out the 2014-15 season, returning at Nebelhorn Trophy in September.

Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot had a strong outing to music from Cirque du Soleil that included a soaring triple twist with catch and landing as light as a feather. Massot landed a bit forward on the triple toe loop, and Savchenko landed the throw triple flip on two feet, but they earned 74.22 points to remain within striking distance of the podium.

"It wasn't our best, best," Savchenko said. "There was a little mistake on the throw, a little mistake on the toe loop. Not everything was clean. I am happy with some moments. Others, I am not happy. It's both sides."

The skaters teamed up in the spring of 2014, after Savchenko won her fifth world title with Robin Szolkowy, who retired from competition. The pair has trained together in Oberstdorf for almost two years, but citizenship issues and a now-settled dispute with the French skating federation delayed their competitive debut.

"It feels amazing to be back at the worlds," Savchenko said. "It is (an) unbelievable feeling, to have something you love to do and the chance to do once more."

Russia's Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov sit fifth with 73.98 points after a poor catch and landing on their triple twist. Their teammates, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, skated a clean short to earn 72 points, good for sixth place.

For Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, the evening was bittersweet: The U.S. silver medalists achieved their long-sought goal of breaking 70 points in an international short program, but Knierim fell on his triple salchow. Still, their 71.37 points is a new personal best.

"The score is not always something that determines how you feel," Scimeca said. "We've skated perfect before, and scored less, and it feels better. We really wanted to end this program with a bang, because it's our last time performing to Metallica. It's one of our favorite programs. Chris' jumps have been so great in practices, so we're just a little bummed right now."

Dalilah Sappenfield, who coaches the pair in Colorado Springs, looked on the bright side.

"The score was good, because they did everything else to the best of their ability, and they stayed in the program and skated well," she said. "We're at worlds; we're getting scored above 70 with a mistake, and that's great."

U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea were disappointed with their performance to Hozier's "Take Me to Church" after Kayne put a hand down on a throw triple flip and O'Shea fell on a choctaw step. They placed 14th with 59.27 points.

"We've run the program 100 times since nationals, and it's something that never happened before," O'Shea said. "Ice is slippery. We're going to take it one step at a time, try to look at the positives and move forward to the long, which is a strong program for us."