The Chinese rang in the New Year with style.
Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo came out of retirement to win China’s first Olympic gold medal in figure skating, teaming with Pang Qing and Tong Jian to give the country a one-two podium finish in the pairs free skate Monday night.
“Today, China has proved it is a force in figure skating,” Tong told The Sports Network.
Canada’s Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison finished sixth, behind a season-high 121.75 free skate and an overall score of 187.11.
Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, also of Canada, scored a personal-best 115.77 in the free skate to finish ninth.
Pang and Tong, having watched their competitors falter one after another before them, skated the performance of their career with a free skate score of 141.81 for a total of 213.31, threatening Shen and Zhao’s gold medal hopes.
But the final Chinese duo shook off a two-year foray into professional skating shows, skating well enough to not lose on the strength of a world-best score 76.66 in the short program.
The three-time world champions had a 139.91 free skate for a combined total of 216.57.
“When the music finished, I said, ‘thank you’ to my wife. Today we did it. We finally won an Olympic gold medal,” Zhao said.
Canada’s top pair appeared tentative and slightly out of sync Monday, as Dubé fell on the same triple Salchow that had given her trouble all week during training and in the pairs short program.
“Sure that wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do,” Davison told the Canadian Press. “When the Sal happened, we just got a little bit out of our skates.
“I messed up our side-by-side spin, which is ridiculous, and then after that, we were a little bit all over the place.”
Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov finished in fourth with194.77, ending a streak of dominance by Russian/Soviet Union skaters.
They had won pairs gold at every Olympic Games since 1964, a streak that includes 2002, when the Russians shared top spot with Canada’s Jamie Salé and David Pelletier in the infamous judging controversy of the Salt Lake Games.
In contention for gold after skating a terrific short program, the European champions failed to land the jumps needed to beat an exceptionally strong field.
Were it not for Shen and Zhao’s spectacular short program that set the bar at incredible heights, Pang and Tao would have had the honour of being China’s first skating gold.
Skating to Impossible Dream from “Man of La Mancha”, Pang and Tao showcased a perfectly executed side-by-side double axel sequence and a flawless axel Lasso lift.
However, a dazzling short program for Shen and Zhao gave them all the power they would need to edge out their fellow teammates. Skating to Adaglo, the veteran pair did not disappoint.
Shen and Zhao failed to display the same precision in executed components as they did Sunday, but scored high enough in program interpretation and composition to realize their one and only goal for returning.
“The Olympic gold medal is the ultimate dream of our career,” Zhao told Chinese web portal Sina.com before the Games.
“We came back for it.”