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Sui, Han hold on to capture emotional world title

Savchenko, Massot finish a close second; Tarasova, Morozov earn bronze
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Wenjing Sui and Cong Han followed Wednesday night's brilliant short program with a magnificent free skate that catapulted them to their first world championship. -Getty Images

The first podium at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships was awarded Thursday night in Helsinki, and it crowned a new winner: China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han.

Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot won the silver medal, while reigning European champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia won the bronze medal. The U.S. pair of Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim managed to hold on to a 10th-place finish after a solid free skate.

Both Sui and Cong, as well as Savchenko and Massot, topped the 150-point plateau for their free skates, setting up an extremely entertaining finish. The Chinese won the technical element total, while the Germans earned the highest component score of the day. Each team also topped its previous season's best, but at the end of the night, Sui and Cong had amassed 232.06 points, with Savchenko and Massot earning 230.30 points.

Skating last of the evening, Sui and Cong opened with the best quad twist of the night, which Sui rotated at an incredible speed. They landed their side-by-side triple toe-double toes in perfect unison, with their only mistake coming when she fell after their side-by-side triple salchows moments later. They landed their throw triple salchow and throw triple flip perfectly, and their three lifts and two spins were rated Level 4. The unison they displayed during their change foot spin was an absolute delight to watch.

The perfection the Chinese presented element after element was rewarded with Grades of Execution (GOEs) all higher than +1.21.

"I was very excited at the end of our program, because then I thought we had made it and won," an exuberant Han said. "Whatever the points would be, we knew that we had transmitted our emotions to the audience."

This time Savchenko was happy as she ended the team's magnificent routine to Patrick Watson's "Lighthouse." The German pair unfolded their most difficult elements one by one, as if flowing naturally from a spring, to the soft piano and light voice that were carrying their steps. Savchenko took advantage of the huge elevation of her triple twist, to delay her rotation, a feat that was appreciated by those in attendance. They landed side-by-side, triple toe-double toe combinations, side-by-side triple salchows and a throw triple salchow.

Savchenko also managed to stand up the landing of their throw triple axel, the only one of the night. The element received a slightly negative GOE (-0.29) but still added 7.41 points to the team's tally. 

"I can't even realize what's happening," an exhausted Massot said shortly after the performance. "We're really happy to be where we are tonight, especially after such a short preparation. In fact, we just had two weeks of intense preparation after I came back from my back injury."

The music and audience carried the Germans, and they maintained the same consistent pace throughout their routine. They delivered not only a technical performance but also a poetical one. They received four marks of 10.0 for their composition and interpretation, and the change foot spin -- which exemplified their artistic strength -- received a +1.43 GOE.

Tarasova and Morozov couldn't keep the momentum from their two major victories of the season -- the Grand Prix Final and European championships -- but nonetheless managed to hold on to the third position they attained following the short program. They landed their side-by-side triple salchows and triple toe-double toe combinations in sync, and also did a throw triple salchow and throw triple loop. The music of John Miles brought the audience to an instant applause, which supported them throughout.

The Russians racked up 139.66 points for their free program and 219.03 points overall. 

China's Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang finished fourth overall, remaining in the same position they held after the short program. They topped their season's best by achieving 136.28 points for the free and ended the competition with 211.51 points overall.  

Despite the tremendous skating from the top four finishers, the third best free program of the evening was that of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who finished a disappointing 13th in the short program but managed to rally for a fifth-place finish thanks to a strong free.

The Russians struggled with their side-by-side elements, but they held on to their side-by-side, triple toe-triple toe combinations, an element Klimov told icenetwork he wanted to land prior to the start of the event. It earned the team 7.50 points by itself!

Stolbova and Klimov, Canada's Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch, and Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford all finished within 0.64 points of one another. The Russians amassed 206.70 points overall, while Iliushechkina and Moscovitch garnered 206.19 points, and Duhamel and Radford 206.06 points.

Several of Duhamel and Radford's elements were of lower quality than usual, which can be attributed partly to Radford's hip injury.

"This is still the best long we've skated this season," Duhamel said. "We will evaluate the whole experience when we are back at home."

"We will evaluate the whole experience when we are back at home," Radford offered. "It will take time to get back to shape."

Duhamel and Radford didn't understand their scores after the short program.

"We had good energy, and it's sad that the judges and the technical panel didn't think as strongly about our skate," a disappointed Duhamel offered as the team left the ice.  

"The side-by-side triple salchow has been my enemy since I came back from surgery," Scimeca said after she landed the element in the short program.

She repeated the feat in the team's free skate, when she and her husband delivered a powerful program to Ghost, the Musical.

"We're relieved!" Scimeca said afterward, smiling.

"The pairs competition is really of a high caliber," Knierim added. "It's no joke to be in the top 10. We've really improved our placement from last year's worlds. We certainly missed GOEs, and they added up through the program, but it's such a huge step for us to represent the U.S. in these championships."