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Canadians lead U.S. by three points in team event

Uno wins sloppy men's short; Duhamel, Radford put Team Canada on top
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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are a big reason why Canada leads after day one of the team event. The two-time world champions tallied 76.57 points for their "With or Without You" short, which earned nine team points for their squad and helped Team Canada take a three-point edge over second-place United States. -Getty Images

A strong performance from Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and a disappointing -- but lucky -- outing from Patrick Chan gave Canada 17 points and a three-point lead over the United States after Day 1 of the team event at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, which featured the men's and pairs short programs.

Both Japan and Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) gained 13 points, due to winning programs from Shoma Uno and Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, respectively.

The men's event was memorable, but for the wrong reasons. With a few exceptions -- most notably, Uno and Alexei Bychenko of Israel, who placed second -- the top-ranked skaters spent almost as much time on their backsides as they did upright. One by one, down they went.

Chan, a three-time world champion, hit the ice on his quadruple toe loop and triple axel. U.S. champion Nathan Chen fell on his triple axel, after popping a quad toe into a double, which earned no points. Next up was two-time European bronze medalist Mikhail Kolyada, who went down on his quad lutz and quad toe. And that's not counting multiple trips and pops in between.

Luckily for the skaters' pride, there was a built-in reason: the exceptionally early start time of 10 a.m. local time in Gangneung. The men's practice began at 7:05 a.m., meaning athletes had to rise at a brisk 5 a.m. or so.

"You've got to take that into account," Chan, who finished third, said. "I didn't have a full practice. You have to be smart. I didn't do any quads this morning, just because it is so early to activate and fire on all cylinders that early. At least we will be ready for future programs, now we know what the schedule is going to look like on these early days."

The fourth-place Chen also cited the early start for his lackluster program.

"Seven o'clock practice is a little rough, staying at the rink until now is just a lot of time here," Chen said. "It is what it is, and it will be similar for the individual. I will use this as practice and try to learn from it."

"We practice early in the morning (at home) but I usually don't get to the rink at six for warm-up," he added. "I usually get to the rink at seven or eight."

We don't know what Kolyada thought. The young Russian stormed past Chan as he was answering reporters' questions in the mixed zone and departed without a word. Athletes are required to visit the mixed zone, but they don't have to talk.

Kolyada had reason to be grim. With Canada and OAR expected to battle for gold, his eighth-place showing allowed Chan to defeat him by five points. Ironically, Chan's subpar short, falls and all, could help lead his team to the top of the podium. Instead of cheering Kolyada when he returned to the team kiss and cry -- considered good form, even if you have to fake it -- the OAR coaches and skaters sat stone-faced.

The skating was so bad that when Uno took the ice, he feared the poor form might be contagious.

"I was watching, and they may have thrown me off a little," Japan's world silver medalist said. "I have never seen them skate so poorly. So when I went on to the ice, I thought maybe I would skate poorly as well."

Uno need not have worried. His inspired short to Vivaldi's The Four Seasons included a quad toe-triple toe combination and solid triple axel, and notched 103.25 points, nearly 15 points more than Bychenko's tally. His only error was a slight turnout on the landing of his quad flip.

"At practice this morning I felt sleepy, but my body was moving well," Uno said. "I felt fine during the program."

Bychenko felt fine, too. The former European silver medalist skated a clean program to "Hava Nagila," hitting his quad toe and triple axel and earning a season's best 88.49 points. His effort led Israel to a fifth-place finish on Day 1, with 11 points.

The pairs, who reported to the Gangneung Ice Arena for a 10:05 a.m. practice, fared considerably better than the men. Two-time European champions Tarasova and Morozov earned 10 points for OAR with a flawless outing of their Rachmaninov short that gained 80.92 points, a new personal best. Every move -- including a Level 4 triple twist, side-by-side triple toes and a throw triple loop -- was executed with near perfection.

Two-time world champions Duhamel and Radford added nine points to Canada's tally with a strong performance of U2's "With or Without You" that notched 76.57 points. Their only noticeable flaw was Radford's slightly imperfect landing of their side-by-side triple lutzes.

Canada -- led by veterans Duhamel and Radford, Chan, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir -- was one of the more spirited teams.

"There's a great energy building around the entire team," Radford said, adding, "We've just come through our careers together. I lived with Scott (Moir) over a summer when he was an annoying 10-year-old boy, he was like the annoying little brother. We've all known each other so long, and it's been this incredible story, and now it's coming to its conclusion."

"We're all kind of the same generation that's coming together," Duhamel said. "I don't think a lot of the other countries have that unity. I think that's going to be Canada's strength."

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot placed fourth with their charming quickstep routine. With Germany not expected to qualify for the free skates, the world silver medalists had told reporters earlier in the week they were using the team short as practice.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim gave the U.S. team's medal hopes a big boost with their strongest short program of the season. Skating to "Come What May," the couple hit a superb triple twist and followed with side-by-side triple salchows. When Scimeca Knierim landed the throw triple flip, she thrust her arms into the air. The U.S. champions placed fourth, picking up seven points for the United States.

"I sensed Chris landed his jump, because I can't see him, but I felt his aura and I was like, he did it. And I did it," Scimeca Knierim said. "So then I was, 'Oh my God, you have to hit this throw,' because I don't want to mess up the throw when we finally get these jumps. And I felt in the air it was a good one."

The celebration was a bit early: Scimeca-Knierim tripped on the dismount of the lift, which cost them a point or two. Still, they gained 69.75 points.

"We came out of the lift, the crowd was crazy, we're at the Olympics and we landed our jumps," Scimeca-Knierim said. "I just tripped."

The team event continues Sunday with the short dance, ladies short program and pairs free skate events.