(Reuters) - North America ruled on the first day of the world championships after Canadian pair Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford produced a flawless skate to steal the spotlight from Chinese stalwarts Pang Qing and Tong Jian on Wednesday.
With Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates setting the benchmark in the short dance, Asian celebrations were a little muted at the competition, which is being hosted in China for the first time.
Chinese lovebirds Pang and Tong, pairs world champions in 2006 and 2010, first competed together in 1996 when many of their current rivals were toddlers.
Now aged 35 and in their final competition, the engaged duo proved they were still capable of producing routines full of drama and intrigue as they were foot perfect with their triple toeloops and throw triple loop.
Their only blip was being slightly out of sync in their side-by-side spins.
They earned rapturous applause from the home fans with their “Moonflower” short skate but were deemed second best by the judges with a score of 72.59.
“We are glad that we nailed everything today and hope to keep it together tomorrow,” Tong told reporters. “We just wanted to give two good performances to the fans before we retire.”
Duhamel and Radford were rewarded for their precise foot work and perfect synchronization with a personal best of 76.98.
The Canadians stayed on track to complete a clean sweep of gold medals at every competition they have entered this year by soaring through a triple twist lift and touching down in perfect harmony following their triple Lutz.
“We’re heading into the long program for the very first time in first place,” Radford told reporters.
“Having a great skate in the short helps us feel more relaxed and also our scores allow us more freedom. Overall, we feel very confident going into tomorrow.”
China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong stood third with 71.63.
A year after Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje lost the ice dance world title by 0.02 of a point, the Canadian favorites will hope they can make up a margin of 1.79 points in the free dance after finishing behind Chock and Bates on Wednesday.
After winning all five international events they have contested this season, the Canadians were confident of leapfrogging their American rivals.
”Historically the free dance is our strength,” Weaver said after earning 72.68.
”Every competition... we have to go out there and fight and that’s what our career’s been all about and that’s our comfort zone.”
Defending champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy were third.
Writing by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris