Ice Network

Tarasova, Morozov tops after short program

China's Yu, Zhang finish second; Canadians Duhamel, Radford land third
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In what was a stunning Grand Prix Final debut, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov laid down a squeaky-clean performance of their electro swing short. The Russian bronze medalists came away with a personal-best score of 78.60 and a first-place finish in the segment. -Getty Images

When Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov skate well, it's nothing short of pure delight. The team earned the top spot in Thursday's short program in Marseille, placing themselves ahead of China's Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang, and the Canadian pairs team of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

Tarasova and Morozov delivered another perfect performance of their short program to "Glam! (Electro-Swing Remix)." Their triple twist, side-by-side triple toes and throw triple loop were textbook-perfect and powerful, and their twist, lift, steps and spin were all rated Level 4. The Russian pair racked up 78.60 points, setting a new personal best and securing first place heading into the free program.

The pair delivered an emotionally packed program, similar to the one they showcased at Skate America earlier in the season. They managed to create a dramatic effect between the power of their skate and their music, magnified when Tarasova landed her throw triple loop in the middle of a silent point.

"It feels good," Morozov said after the performance. "Tonight was our best program of the season. We feel the impact it creates in the rink, but we don't concentrate on it. We just feel the support, and we feel that everybody likes our program."

If there were a ranking for the highest and most powerful jumps, Yu and Zhang would have won the short. Their triple twist earned the highest grade in field, and their throw triple loop was the widest of them all. All their elements were rated Level 4; they were the only ones in the field to achieve that result.  

They skated to "Eternal Flame" and "Fearless," powerful arrangements by Brand X Music.

"It has been only six months since we started skating together," Zhang reflected. "We had to work very hard to reach that level. But still, we skated quite relaxed."

Yu and Zhang stand second heading to the free program with 75.34 points, 3.26 points behind Tarasova and Morozov.

Duhamel and Radford finished third but surely didn't enjoy their best performance. Duhamel used a hand to land her triple lutz, and she suffered a fall while landing a throw triple axel. The Canadians scored 71.44 points, which was still good enough for a top-three position.

"Everybody who saw us in practice this week has seen that we had great run-throughs," a disappointed Radford said as he left the ice. "We landed that triple axel each time, and we were prepared to have a great skate today. It's unfortunate that we could not translate it into the actual competition."

"We have a backup plan in case our side-by-side lutz doesn't work," Duhamel added. "It crossed my mind that I should call a triple flip instead of the triple axel, but it's actually our most reliable triple, and we had landed it every time, so I decided to leave it."

"We may have to reconsider our strategy," Radford concluded.

Cheng Peng and Yang Jin skated a delightful program to Jimbo Mathus's "My Drag." The pair opened with clean side-by-side triple toes, followed by a throw triple loop and triple twist. They scored 70.84 points and are in fourth place.

In just a few months skating with Jin, Peng has completely transformed herself.

"I felt it was right to switch partners," their coach, Hongbo Zhao, explained. "As a coach, you have to know your skaters. I saw what their needs were, and I tried to read into their hearts. But that was huge work to achieve."

Throughout their program, the duo portrays the relationship between a man and a woman, and the audience in Marseille laughed as they went along with their routine.

"That program is from Lori Nichol," Jin said with a grateful smile. "We owe her a lot, I think."  

Russia's Natalia Zabijako and Alexander Enbert skated to Georgy Sviridov's "Snowstorm," and their performance left them in fifth place.

Canada's Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau endured a rough outing of their own, as they fell on two of their major elements: Bilodeau on their side-by-side triple salchows and Seguin on the landing of their throw triple lutz. They were nonetheless applauded throughout their program, since their music from Cirque du Soleil was an instant hit with the audience.

They stand in sixth place after achieving 60.86 points.