Ice Network

Pang, Tong lead pairs field after short in Paris

Americans Denney, Coughlin four points back in fourth place
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Qing Pang and Jian Tong's short program propelled them into first place after scoring 67.69 points. -Getty Images

China's Qing Pang and Jian Tong finished on top of the short program of the pairs competition at the 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris, with 67.69 points. Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are in second, less than two points behind Pang and Tong (66.07 points). Vera Barazova and Yuri Larionov, from Russia, round out the top three (65.67 points). In a stunning turn of events, all three pairs fell on their parallel triple jumps.

Americans Caydee Denney and John Coughlin sit in fourth place after a perfect short program , accumulating 63.52 points. Denney and Coughlin beat their season's best in the process.

Skating to Lady Caliph by Ennio Morricone, Tong fell on the pair's opening triple toe loop. The team then completed a perfect program to earn 36.46 points for the technical elements -- their throw triple loop even registering a 1.6 GOE (Grade of Execution). The pair also received 32.33 points for the components, with an eight point average. Pang and Tong rendered the image of pure fusion of a pair throughout the events of life. This could give an idea of their own story, too.

"This program was choreographed by Nikoli Morozov," Tong explained. "It's very difficult for us to skate now. We are old, but this year, the injury I sustained to my back and knees seems to be behind us. We have found a coach in the U.S. who helped me to train specifically some muscles to help my knees.

"Of course, I can't practice as much as I did when I was younger," he added. "I do three to five jumps each time, not more. Otherwise, injuries might start again!"

Pang and Tong are appearing in the 37th Grand Prix event of their extensive careers.

Emotions rose through the stands as they ended their routine. The applause started only a moment after they completed their program, as if it were not to disturb the magic of that special moment.

No one had seen Vera Barazova and Yuri Larionov skate this season, as the team opened its Grand Prix season in Paris.

Their Charlie Chaplin routine was an interesting mixture of pure power and comedy. Barazova fell on their parallel triple toe, but their program was otherwise perfect. The team even added a few new tricks and even pantomime to their elements, like when Larionov put his hand behind his back during the pair's death spiral. Interestingly enough, the pair got around 7.5 points for skating skills and transitions but 7.9 points for their other three components (the highest being, unsurprisingly, 7.96 points for interpretation).

Duhamel and Radford have always stated that their short program was a "tribute" to Radford's first coach, Paul Wirtz, who passed away in 2006. Duhamel did fall on their side-by-side triple Lutzes, but the pair quickly regained their composure and offered a jewel of emotion throughout the rest of their program.

These two are not only emotional, but they are testing the adventure of a pair way beyond what even regular pairs dare to do in real life, trying to mix each one's dream with a couple's destiny.

"We always try to push ourselves beyond and to push our sport at the same time," Duhamel said. "This has always been our quest -- what can we do into that death spiral to make it unique? What can we add entering into our triple Lutzes to make them look different?

 "We try to follow the example set by Aliona [Savchenko] and Robin [Szolkowy]," Duhamel added. "They have made pair skating evolve so much in the last six years. They have always been role models for us."

2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin opened their Tosca short with an incredible triple twist lift -- which gave the pair a + 1.3 GOE -- and perfect parallel triple toe loops. After they landed a throw triple flip earlier in their season, they switched to a throw triple loop at Skate America. In Paris they went back to their usual triple flip. When she started her jump, everyone thought Denney would end up sitting on the ice. However, she brilliantly held on to it. 

"She is very gifted," Coughlin emphasized. "She has an awareness in the air that few girls have. We managed to harness our energy and the crowd's energy. We're happy. It felt good there. The French audience was great with us."

Their components averaged 6.0 points at the end of their short program.

"It was a fight, but this is definitely a step forward after Skate America," Denney added with enthusiasm. "The audience was very loud, they gave us an amazing aura and stamina!"

Has Denney managed to catch a pigeon during one of the pair's unique lifts?

"Not yet!" Coughlin said laughingly, "But we are working at it!"

The other couples did not manage to hit the 60-point level. They stand more than 10 points behind Pang and Tong.

The newly formed pair of Natasha Purich and Mervin Tran, from Canada, also skated a clean program for their first Grand Prix together. They sit in sixth position after the short program.