Eurosport - Wed, 24 Mar 09:16:00 2010
Pang Qing and Tong Jian stepped out of the shadows with a sublime short program to lead at the halfway stage of the pairs competition at the World Figure Skating Championships in Turin.
The Chinese duo, world champions in 2006, were forced to settle for silver at the Vancouver Olympics last month, as gold went to compatriots Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who finally got their hands on the elusive gold.
But having finally collected the one that got away, Shen and Zhao have since hung up their skates for the second time and in Turin, Pang and Tong needed no second invitation to seize the spotlight.
They produced a superb performance to collect 75.28 points, a season's best, to take a commanding lead on a night of suspect judging in Italy, ahead of Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, who collected 73.12.
Pang and Tong will now be red-hot favourites for gold and will almost certainly top the podium if they can repeat their Vancouver free skate performance which saw them collect 141.81 points, a new world record.
"Today we are really happy," said Tong. "The score is a season's best for us and we have to be happy with that.
"All we can do now is try and stay strong for tomorrow and hopefully we can do well again in the free program."
Kavaguti and Smirnov, bronze medallists a year ago, remain their nearest rivals and produced an impressive display but it was the scores handed to the next three pairs that raised more than a few eyebrows in Turin.
Just as in Vancouver Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany cut forlorn figures despite their jovial clown costumes as once again mistakes crept into the double defending champions' routine.
Szolkowy made a glaring error on his triple toe-loop jump and shook his head in disgust as he trudged of the ice before he and Savchenko were awarded 69.52 points - almost five down on their season's best set at Skate Canada.
"It's so disappointing as a sportsman when you make mistakes," admitted Szolkowy, who along with Savchenko collected bronze in Vancouver.
"It is hard to find the positives but you just have to be strong and come back out tomorrow and perform better."
But surprisingly, that score proved to be good enough to cling on to third place despite strong performances from Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia and Chinese duo Dang Zhang and Hao Zhang.
Mukhortova and Trankov were awarded 69.48 while the Zhangs were even lower on 69.20 and the Russian pairings coach Oleg Vasiliev, an Olympic pairs champion in 1984, was quick to point the finger.
"I don't really know why that happened," he said. "I think the problem is that the judges too often give their scores on what they have seen across the season rather than what they see in front of them."
Meanwhile, Great Britain's Stacey Kemp and David Kemp squeezed through to the free program, posting 45.14 points, good enough for 16th place.
Figure Skating World Championships:
Men's Short Programme - Wednesday 1pm LIVE on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Player
Pairs Free Programme - Wednesday 5.30pm LIVE on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Player
Original Dance - Thursday 11.45am & 2.45pm LIVE on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Player
Men's Free Skate - Thursday 8pm LIVE on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Player
Ladies Short Programme - Friday 12.30pm & 2.45pm LIVE on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Player
Free Dance - Friday 8pm LIVE on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Player
Ladies Free Skate - Saturday 6pm on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Player
Exhibition - Sunday 6.15pm on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Playe