Two-man drama ends in gold for China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong

The last score would go to late skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the beloved Chinese who paired up from childhood through teenage years and up to 26 and 29, respectively, already silver medalists in PyeongChang in 2018. With about as much pressure as sports could weigh on anyone anywhere, in a pairs event moved from the start of the Olympic calendar to the back so they could provide a moving closing scene – good blood – they had skated to a two-verse, two-voice cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with a mastery that seemed to show their 15 years together, and roars that seemed to exceed the number of throats that made them.

Now they and their audience sat staring at various screens for the numbers in agonizing silence, knowing the pair needed 154.85 to surpass the Russian team of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who had skated just before them with polish and elegance and something quite close to greatness. to the disheveled voice of Patrick Watson in “Lighthouse”.

When finally the number came up with an announcement in Mandarin – 155.47 – the place started to bounce back.

It didn’t stop for quite a while, and the Chinese authorities proved elated enough about it to go ahead and present the medals, rather than the usual separate ceremony, so Sui and Han hung the medals one on top of the other at the top of the podium and then sang the national anthem, “March of the Volunteers”, with unmistakable enthusiasm.

“First of all, I think it’s an unforgettable evening,” Han said a good hour and a change later during the press conference. “We have realized our dreams in our homeland.”

They achieved them with their world record of 239.88 for the two-part event, surpassing the 239.25 of Tarasova and Morozov, who finished ahead of two other Russian teams, bronze medalists Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov ( 237.71), reigning world champions, and fourth-place finishers Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii (220.50).

Another Chinese team would attract good cheers and happy chants and come in fifth, namely Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, followed by the Americans. Grouped around the dazzling Japanese team of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who placed seventh, stood the California team of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in sixth place with a personal best of 212.68, and the Texas team of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc eighth at 198.05 after some wobbles.

“It’s crazy,” Frazier said of the personal best, calling it a dream come true in which they “didn’t let nerves get the better of us.” Of the other American team, Knierim said she felt “a bit disappointed” after falling twice, but said: “I have to put that behind me and just think of all the good.”

His team, after all, had dreamed of the top 10 and achieved it, while Sui and Han had been dreaming for four years from PyeongChang while carrying around the world’s third largest country and largest population, all with body types once considered a hindrance to pair glory.

For nearly two weeks after competing in the team competition at the start, they had watched and cheered on other Chinese Olympians from various places such as the athletes’ dining hall. “There are concerns,” Han said. “There is unrest.” And: “And we have to wait all this time for this day.” Then Friday and Saturday evenings, which still linger on the end of the Olympic fortnight, finally made their appearance, and rivals after rivals excelled in a breathtaking spectacle which closed an eventful encounter. “Today, before I got on the ice,” Han said, “I knew all of my competitors had done very well, so there’s a lot of pressure.”

They took the ice around 9:45 p.m. Beijing time. A few extraordinarily good rivals had preceded them, each seeming to edge the previous one by infinitesimal margins. Sui wore blue on the skirt and white on the top. Han wore black. The arena went silent. They began Paul Simon’s very famous composition, which would include a verse each of female and male voices. “We hope that our program,” Sui said, “can be that bridge over murky water to support everyone in their darkest times so they can get over their downs.”

The moment they fashioned their opening quadruple twist lift, onlookers were thrilled. Then Sui and Han continued with their own elegance and polish and maybe a little misstep, and as they approached the end with Han skating upright while carrying Sui who was upside down, they seemed to have climbed the mountain of pressure and basking in the view.

They finished and Sui cried into Han’s chest. They went to the center of the ice and hugged again. They bowed on all sides of the stadium, which she did at one point while kneeling. Then they hugged and walked off the ice to sit and wait and learn if their world-record short program of 84.41, plus that free skate, would add to China’s first gold medal in couple since Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, the latter. among their coaches at Vancouver 2010.

The number came, and the crowd cheered, and the “kiss and cry” area became a mad cuddling stable between skaters and coaches, with Han himself crying now. A TV reporter called it “an incredible night for China”. Han said, in an idiom that apparently translates from Mandarin, “We put a nice icing on the cake [of the Olympics], and we are proud of it. He called it “an incredible journey”, because the journey had been a long one, both years and weeks, before everything fell into hell.