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Shen, Zhao lead after record-breaking short

Germans are close second; Mukhortova, Trankov third

Shen and Zhao lead the pairs contingent in Tokyo after delivering a stunning short program.
Shen and Zhao lead the pairs contingent in Tokyo after delivering a stunning short program. (Getty Images)

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By Alexandra Stevenson, special to icenetwork.com
(12/03/2009) - It was an event to remember.

In a pairs short program contest where even the slightest flaw -- a forward landing, or a mistimed spin change of position -- stuck out like a sore thumb, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao set a new standard.

The two-time Olympic bronze medalists continued their remarkable comeback after two seasons away from competition by breaking their own world record, earning 75.36 points for their stunning short to "Who Wants to Live Forever."

Skating with speed and aggression, the Chinese hit their usual powerful triple twist and throw triple loop, as well as well-timed side-by-side triple toe loops and a hand-to-hand lift with smooth changes of position. Their straight-line steps were fast and fluid, and they barely put a blade wrong.

Two-time and reigning German world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were not far behind, gaining 73.14 points for their outing to Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns."

"The elements felt better than in the other competitions, except for my triple toe obviously [he touched down]," Szolkowy said. "Everything felt calm and smooth.

"At first it was difficult for me to adapt to [this "Clown" routine]; I had to overcome myself to do the mimics in practice, but now I am used to it."

Russians Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov also set a new personal best, 68.04, in their enchanting, lyrical program to music from Secret Garden. Still, their third place is some 5.58 points off the lead.

Former Chinese world champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong were the third pair to gain a new personal best, earning 68.04, but in this high-caliber field it gained only fourth place.

Chinese Olympic silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang are fifth with 66.24, while world bronze medalists Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia are sixth with 62.30.

Lynn Rutherford contributed to this report