GANGNEUNG, South Korea: China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took the lead in pairs figure skating on Wednesday with an incandescent short programme, edging out Olympic Athletes of Russia Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov by less than a point.
Skating to "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, Sui and Han snapped out a clean series of triples that earned them 82.39 points and put them at the top of a tightly-packed leaderboard.
"I think today we did quite well," Sui said. "We enjoyed ourselves. I think tomorrow we can show our best.
"When we prepare, before I make up, I cried because I felt both excited and nervous. When we finished, we knew we did well, and I just wanted to cry."
Tarasova pumped her fist after she and Morozov finished their fiery routine to Sergei Rachmaninov's "Piano Concerto No. 2" that earned them 81.68.
The pair had been among the Olympic Athletes from Russia squad who won silver in the team event earlier this week but the excitement of that success had vanished by the time they stepped onto the ice on Wednesday, Tarasova said.
"We put the medals away for a while," she told reporters. "We did as if we had just come to a competition and started everything from scratch."
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who won gold with Canada in the team event, amassed 76.82 points for third place, their routine slightly marred when Duhamel put her foot down on the thrown triple Lutz.
"Considering the stress and the pressure of the Olympics, the competition has been very good," Duhamel told reporters.
"I knew that one major error would take us out of medal contention and we didn't want to do that. We wanted to go into the long programme in the hunt for a medal and that's where we are."
The competition continues on Thursday with the free skate, after which medals will be awarded.
NORTH KOREANS SHINE
One performance that stood out not only for its beauty but also for political ramifications was that of North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik.
They completed a clean skate in front of a crowd of jubilant supporters at the Gangneung Ice Arena, earning a personal best score of 69.40 points to rank 11th overall.
The skaters were the first North Koreans to qualify for the Pyeongchang Games after they finished in the top six at a competition in Germany in September, but for many months it was unclear whether they would turn up in South Korea.
However, North Korea eventually agreed to compete in Pyeongchang after the South and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) encouraged it to take part as a peace gesture.
North Korea did not have any athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games but have sent 22 to Pyeongchang, including 12 ice hockey players in a combined North and South Korean women's team.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by John O'Brien)