Emotional Chinese win world pairs figure skating gold

Emmeline MOORE

Helsinki (AFP) - China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong capped their comeback from injury by claiming a first pairs gold with a high-flying display of acrobatics at the world figure skating championships on Thursday.

The two-time world silver medallists survived a fall to snatch gold ahead of Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot after the free skating final at Hartwall Arena.

Skating to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" the Chinese scored a personal best 150.83 points for their free skate and 232.06 overall, winning by a margin of just 1.76 points on Savchenko and Massot.

"It was a very moving performance and I think the audience could feel our emotion and our story in this programme," said 24-year-old Han.

The pair from Harbin have been on the comeback trail after 21-year-old Sui underwent surgery on both her feet early last year.

"We have been through many, many difficult things. I hope Sui can stay healthy," he said.

Sui revealed that the months of doubt had changed her life.

"After my operation something changed for me," explained the 21-year-old. "I now enjoy every moment on the ice as never before.

"From the time I was a child becoming world champion was my dream.

"Now we want to keep going and go to the top of the podium at the Olympic Games next year."

After missing the early part of the season the pair won the Four Continents title ahead of world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada.

And they set themselves on the path to victory in Helsinki by leading Wednesday's short programme.

Despite Sui coming a cropper on a triple salchow during the free skate they held on for an emotional victory.

Ukraine-born Savchenko, 33, was bidding for a sixth world title having won five with her previous partner Robin Szolkowy.

The Germans were also returning from Savchenko's ankle injury and Massot's back problem which forced them out of the Grand Prix final and nationals.

But their presentation to Patrick Watson's "Lighthouse" was not without error with Savchenko two-footing the landing of two of her jumps.

The German pair scored 150.46 for the free skate and 230.30 overall.

"It's a long life of pain to reach this level. But to get this amazing feeling on the ice that we had tonight makes it worth it," said Massot, who teamed up with Savchenko three years ago.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia achieved 219.03 to take their first world medal with bronze.

But two-time defending champions Duhamel and Radford dropped to seventh.

The Canadians had been trailing after the short programme as Radford struggled with a niggling hip muscle spasm.

And errors and a fall by Duhamel in their free skate to the music "Non, je ne regrette rien" ended their bid for a third consecutive title.

- Fernandez triple -

Earlier, Spain's Javier Fernandez hit two quadruple jumps to get his bid for a third straight men's title off the mark as Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu trailed in fifth.

The 26-year-old Fernandez nailed all his elements in his short programme to the classical Spanish guitar composition Malaguena to post 109.05 points in Helsinki's Hartwall Arena.

Japanese teenager Shoma Uno surged to second place with 104.86 with veteran former three-time winner Patrick Chan of Canada third on 102.13 going into Saturday's free skating final.

All three achieved career-best scores.

Hanyu -- bidding to recapture the title he won in 2014 -- botched his second quad salchow jump, landing on his knee to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" and is fifth on 98.39.

"There was a lot of pressure, every year there are a lot of skaters trying to get in on the party," said Fernandez.

"The fact that there was amazing skating out there gives me more confidence. I'm one of the older skaters but to be here and competitive gives me confidence for the years ahead."

Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva will bid to seal her second straight women's title on Friday when the ice dancing competition also gets under way.

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