VANCOUVER -- Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China set the bar sky-high in the pairs short program Sunday at the Vancouver Games.
The veteran Chinese skaters were the first to take the ice at the Pacific Coliseum, scoring 76.66 points to lower their own world short-program record.
Shen and Zhao, three-time world champions and bronze medallists at both the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, will look to continue their success in today's long program after skating a rock-solid performance to Who Wants to Live Forever?, choreographed by Canadian Lori Nichol, prompting huge cheers with their gravity-defying throw-triple twist.
Reigning world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, skating more than three hours after the stunning performance by the Chinese, were second, scoring a solid 75.96 with a playful rendition of Send in the Clowns. The pair were dressed appropriately as traditional French clowns, he in black, she in white, with ruffles, oversize buttons and painted faces.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia were third with a score of 74.16.
Jessica Dube of St-Cyrille-de-Wendover, Que., and Bryce Davison of Huntsville, Ont., the 2008 world bronze medallists, were sixth after scoring 65.36 on a rough routine that likely cost them a chance at a medal in Vancouver. Skating in the final group, Dube fell on a side-by-side triple Salchow -- a jump that has given Dube trouble in the past -- during their routine, choreographed to Requiem for a Dream. Dube also stumbled on their step sequence, and their final spin was out of synch.
"Everything was really nice except, of course, for the side-by-side jump," Davison said. "We're happy with how we attacked the program. I'm sure the one error isn't helping where we're standing in points right now, but anything can happen in the long."
Anabelle Langlois of Hull, Que., and Cody Hay of Edmonton, who are back on the ice after missing all of last season, were seventh, scoring a season-best 64.20 points. The two, sidelined last year after Langlois fractured her fibula, skated a near-flawless performance to Fascination, Hay lifting Langlois off her feet after the performance for a big bear hug.
Langlois competed in the 2002 Games, but Hay was making his Olympic debut and admitted the nerves and the energy from the red-and-white-clad crowd that included former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien nearly got the better of him.
"When we stepped out for that warmup, I had no legs. I got so nervous, I think just seeing all the people there, hearing the noise," Hay said. "It's impossible to describe it. I've never felt like that in my life. I usually get really nervous at competitions, but I've just never experienced anything like that. It was so exciting and uplifting and such a proud moment, but at the same time, it just makes you feel like you're so small with the spotlight on you."
But the team to beat is Shen and Zhao. The veteran husband-and-wife team -- Shen is 31 and her husband Zhao is 36 -- have returned from a two-year break in their bid for Olympic glory in Vancouver.
The pairs event opened the figure skating competition at the Pacific Coliseum, where Skate Canada officials have said the team could potentially medal in all four disciplines. Canada's strongest hopes for a podium finish come from ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and reigning world silver medallists Patrick Chan and Joannie Rochette, in men's and women's singles.
-- The Canadian Press