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Re-live the record-setting Olympic pairs short program

Re-live the record-setting Olympic pairs short program
Posted at 3:01 AM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 10:30:17-05

Will the Chinese team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong win gold at their home Olympics? Or will reigning world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov bring the Russian Olympic Committee its third figure skating win of these Games?

Or is it ROC's Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov -- fourth at the PyeongChang 2018 Games and fourth at the 2021 worlds -- who will play spoiler?

The answers to those questions began to take shape in a record-setting pairs short program Feb. 18 at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The top two teams in the short scored higher than the previous world record score under the current system.

WATCH ON DEMAND: USA  |  NBCOlympics.com  |  Peacock

The teams of Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier and Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc are on their way to the best Olympic finishes by U.S. pairs teams in over 20 years, currently sixth and seventh after having stunning performances of their own.

Editor's note: Re-live the event as it unfolded in real time with our live blog updates below.

Group 1 feat. Knierim/Frazier

5:44 a.m. ET: We begin this first of five groups by making history: Karina Safina and Luka Berulava are now the first Georgians to compete in pairs figure skating at the Olympics. Coached in part by 2014 Olympic champion Maksim Trankov of Russia, they score 66.11 points here.

5:51 a.m. ET: Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier had an astounding start to their Olympic experience with a great skate in the team event and they repeat that success here. "That was electric," 1998 Olympic singles champion Tara Lipinski said, giving them high praise. "They make sure you never look away." Knierim and Frazier easily lead with a score of 74.23 points, close to their personal best from the team event of 75.00.

5:58 a.m. ET: Another team to watch, Canada's Vanessa James and Eric Radford, takes the ice early. That's because the start order for the short program is derived from world rankings (in reverse order) and teams that have a short history together have not yet had a chance to build up enough world ranking points. Knierim/Frazier, both past U.S. champions (and Knierim a 2018 Olympian) with other partners, paired up in April 2020, while James/Radford, she a past world medalist and he a past world champion and 2018 Olympic medalist, became a team in April 2021. James doubles a side-by-side triple toeloop in this performance and they are into third with 63.03 points.

Current top three: Knierim/Frazier (USA), Safina/Berulava (GEO), James/Radford (CAN)

SEE MORE: Team USA's Knierim and Frazier nail pair skating routine

Group 2

This group should have four teams but will instead have three after Hungary's Ioulia Chtchetinina and Mark Magyar had to withdraw. Magyar tested positive for COVID-19.

6:33 a.m. ET: A beautiful performance to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" from Japan's Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who were fourth in the team event short program. She doubles on their side-by-side triple toeloops. They're second for now with 70.85 points and guarantee themselves a spot in the 16-team free skate.

6:40 a.m. ET: Austria's Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer are competing at their FOURTH Olympics -- uncommon in this sport. A few errors here and they score 51.96 points -- sixth of six for now.

6:46 a.m. ET: Shaky performance from Spain's Laura Barquero and Marco Zandron (well, he was Italian until a month and a half ago), who are fourth and make the free skate cutoff with a score of 63.34.

Current top three: Knierim/Frazier (USA), Miura/Kihara (JPN), Safina/Berulava (GEO)

Group 3

7:02 a.m. ET: Jelizaveta Zukova and Martin Bidar, starting this middle group, fall twice and are in jeopardy of not making it to Saturday's free skate with 54.64 points.

7:08 a.m. ET: Yevgeny Krasnopolski takes the ice for his third Olympics and this time with a third partner, Hailey Kops. She makes a mistake in their step sequence, and not the most unified of pairs performances. Sixth for the Israel team with 55.99 points.

7:14 a.m. ET: Enter Italy's Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise with very spring-like costumes (yellow, green, blue -- look it up). Not-so-fun fact: They had two collisions with James/Radford in practice sessions at these Games. Anyway, Della Monica falls on their throw triple loop. Into fourth with 63.58 points.

7:21 a.m. ET: Finally, Minerva Hase and Nolan Seegert make their Olympic debut! Seegert tested positive for COVID-19 once in Beijing and was in quarantine for 10 days, forcing this team to miss representing Germany in the team event and the country to place ninth of 10 teams. She falls at the end of their throw triple salchow here and they're in seventh with 62.37 points.

Current top three: Knierim/Frazier (USA), Miura/Kihara (JPN), Safina/Berulava (GEO)

Group 4 feat. Cain-Gribble/LeDuc

7:50 a.m. ET: Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are at their second Olympics together and her third in total. They have declared this is their final season together. Both go down on their throw triple loop in their "Hold on Tight" -- very rare mistake for a pairs man. Into seventh behind their teammates, score of 62.51 points.

7:56 a.m. ET: The second of two U.S. teams, Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc perform a mostly clean short program which two-time Olympian Johnny Weir calls "truly exceptional." Cain-Gribble hugs her father/coach, 1980 Olympian Peter Cain, exclaiming, "Yay, we're officially Olympians!" They earn 74.13, a wildly close mark to Knierim/Frazier's 74.23. LeDuc is now the first publicly out nonbinary athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics. Their U.S. teammates from all other disciplines can be seen cheering from the stands, including Nathan Chen and Alysa Liu.

8:03 a.m. ET: The first of two Chinese teams, Peng Cheng and Jin Yang have a strong, excellent skate to Alicia Keys' version of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and her own hit "No One." Competing in their own country, they take the lead from Knierim and Frazier with 76.10 points.

8:09 a.m. ET: Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini are skating to "Mambo Italiano." For those confused, why yes, they are indeed representing Italy. She falls twice in a span of roughly four seconds -- first while skating (ice is slippery), then on their side-by-side triple salchow. They are 12th now and do manage to secure a spot in the free skate with 55.83 points.

Current top three: Peng/Jin (CHN), Knierim/Frazier (USA), Cain-Gribble/LeDuc (USA)

SEE MORE: Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc shine in short program

Group 5 feat. Mishina/Galliamov, Sui/Han

8:24 a.m. ET: We start the final group with current world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov of the ROC. "Perfectionists being perfect," Lipinski said, adding, "it's almost supernatural." They are just a few hundredths off from the highest score ever recorded, and 0.12 ahead of their team event second-place score, earning 82.76 points.

8:30 a.m. ET: The Russians' biggest competition, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, immediately follow. Sui and Han took silver at the PyeongChang 2018 Games and are primed for gold at their home Games. If looks could kill, Sui would have wiped out half the population in this "Mission: Impossible 2" program. Wow -- they take the highest score ever recorded with 84.41 points and a larger lead than expected.

8:37 a.m. ET: Wow. In case you thought it would be a battle between those two teams for the gold, guess again. ROC's Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who were fourth in 2018, bring out their own excellence and score 84.25 points to top their fellow Russians for second. "This pairs free skate is going to be the best pairs event ever," Lipinski said.

8:44 a.m. ET: Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitry Kozlovskii, the final ROC team, bring out their best but she puts her hand down on the landing of their throw triple flip and, after what the rest of this final group did, there is no room for mistakes. They are in fourth in the short program with 78.59 points.

Top three after the short program: Sui/Han (CHN), Tarasova/Morozov (ROC), Mishina/Galliamov (ROC)