Gold just tastes better at home.
Four years after they were less than half a point from Olympic glory, two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China captured the pair skating gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, triumphing with a 239.88 and celebrating in front of a raucous home crowd inside the Capital Indoor Stadium.
It was the slimmest of margins for Sui/Han: A 0.63 victory over Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of the ROC, who put the pressure on the Chinese with a scintillating performance in the penultimate skate of the night, scoring a 239.25.
Sui/Han were buoyed by a quadruple twist (overhead throw) at the start of their program, the quadruple attempt having been done just two times previously in Olympic history. The points it earned them (10.42) helped buoy them to the top of the podium.
Their "Bridge Over Troubled Water" free skate program was a repeat from their 2016-17 world title-winning season, and was a program they brought back saying it represented their past struggles - including multiply injuries and surgeries over the last few years.
China and the ROC make up the top five: Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, the 2020 European champions, were fourth with a 220.50, while the No.2 Chinese team of Peng Cheng and Jin Yang thrilled the home crowd as well, scoring 214.84.
Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who are in just their second season together, impressed to finish sixth at 212.68.
Sui and Han had set a new world record score of 84.41 in the short program, as well, to lead on Friday (18 February) night, just 0.16 points ahead of Tarasova/Morozov at 84.25.
"This is an unforgettable night," Han said to reporters in Mandarin. "We realized our dreams in our homeland. We put a very good icing on the cake and we are very proud of that."
Added Sui: "Compared with PyeongChang four years ago - we have changed the color. We achieved this grand goal. We have been through so much, been through so many injuries."
The same two teams sat in first and second place following the short at PyeongChang 2018, when Sui/Han won the silver medal and Tarasova/Morozov finished off the podium in fourth.
Pair skating is being staged as the final of the four disciplines at an Olympic Games for the first time in over 60 years - since the 1956 Winter Games. The move was made to highlight the two-time world champions Sui/Han, who will try and add to China's tally of eight golds this Games.
See the full results from the pair skating event here.
Sui/Han win China just its second figure skating gold
The exultation from Sui and Han as their scores came across the big screen inside the arena said it all: Roars of happiness and then flowing tears, which had started for Sui before she even left the ice.
Their risk for the quad twist had paid off: They moved through their free skate seamlessly, Sui's two-footed side-by-side triple Salchow being downgraded, perhaps their only visible error in what was otherwise four minutes of exquisite skating.
Sui called the decision to include the quad twist part of their "pursuit of the Olympic spirit."
"We could do that trick since we were young, but as we grew up, more and more injuries occurred and it’s not easy for us to do the quadruple any more due to our body type," Sui said. "But I think this is where the Olympic spirit stands, no matter if you have injuries, or how your body is, or if you are suitable for this trick, just try it and do it. I think this is also our way to pursuit of the Olympic spirit."
The injuries have been many: Sui had surgery on both of her feet after the 2015-16 season - and in 2018, Sui had competed at the Olympics with a fracture in her right foot, an injury that persisted through the 2018-19 season. Both skaters have gone through surgeries in their careers.
They had dedicated their aforementioned free skate to said struggles.
"[This] reflects the two of us who support each other," Sui told Olympics.com in November. "How we helped each other and get out of trouble after being injured."
Han continued that theme on Saturday, saying that the two have been through many struggles prior to their injuries and surgeries, including doubters who said they shouldn't be pair skaters.
"From a very young age - from the underdog that no one believed that we can do pair skating because of our [sizes] we now become Olympic champions," Han said. "This is an amazing journey... We wanted to show people that you can do it no matter what. You really just need to step out and be brave."
Pair skating offers high-quality finish at Games
As the final figure skating discipline to compete during Beijing 2022, the pairs free skate delivered high-level skating, particularly within the final two groups.
Before Sui/Han skated as the last team on the ice, Tarasova/Morozov put the pressure on the short program leaders, dispelling any demons they felt from a disappointing free skate four years ago in PyeongChang.
Their "Lighthouse" free skate featured side-by-side triple Salchows to start, then a triple twist lift, which they received a Level 4 (the highest) for. Once they hit their triple toe-loop-double toe-double toe combination the team skated with more freedom, embracing one another at the finish for a skate well-executed.
Their scores were a career best in both the free skate and overall,
"We did what we wanted," Tarasova said in Russian. "We did that in training and we managed to do that at the competitions. So we are very happy."
Morozov said there was satisfaction, but also disappointment having been just 0.63 points from gold.
"We are super glad that we have a medal," he said. "But of course half of point is such a tiny difference. And we made all our elements, and the other pair did not. So it's a little frustrating."
The duo owe part of their success to Maxim Trankov, the Sochi 2014 pairs champion (with Tatiana Volosozhar) who has worked with them as a coach in the recent past.
The ROC's other top team, reigning world champs Mishina/Galliamov, had skated prior to Tarasova/Morozov and also put the pressure on, but while their program was technically sound, it lacked an Olympic "moment" with still two teams to go.
The duo had won only gold all season - but had to settle for bronze at the Games.
"We are used to the fact that if we perform our maximum, we get a gold medal," Mishina admitted. "And here we got the experience that it doesn’t always work that way and you need to try to work even harder, make your program more difficult."
Olympic moments for Top 12 teams
Boikova/Kozlovskii, Peng/Jin and Knierim/Frazier all had memorable skates with few errors, the Chinese No.2 team getting a massive ovation from the limited crowd on hand much as Sui and Han did.
Knierim/Frazier's sixth-place finish, coupled with Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc finishing eighth, marked the first time two U.S. teams had finished in the top 10 at a Games since Nagano 1998.
Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi bounced back from a disappointing short program to earn seventh for Japan, while Karina Safina and Luka Berulava shone bright in the free skate for ninth for the Georgian duo.
Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada rounded out the top 10. Meanwhile, Spain's first-ever pairs team at an Olympic Games, Laura Barquero and Marco Zandron finished 11th, while the comeback duo of Vanessa James and Eric Radford were 12th.