Surprise finish: In senior worlds debut, Mishina and Galliamov roar back to capture first pairs title 

The Russian skaters were junior world champions just two years ago, and leapfrog short program leaders Boikova/Kozlovskii and Sui/Han for the gold medal.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The lyrics of their Queen free skate - "We are the champions" - came true on Thursday night for Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov.

The 2019 world junior champions were flawless at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, leaping past two-time world champs Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China and short program leaders Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii to capture the world title on their senior world debut.

"We were really surprised to come first," a shellshocked Mishina said after the win. "I don't know what to say in this moment because we don't even understand what it means yet."

It's the first time a team has won on debut since 1986, when Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov did so. The duo went on to win two Olympics golds.

The Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) skaters scored a 151.80 in the free for a 227.59 overall, beating Sui/Han's 225.71, the Chinese coming in at 148.09 in the long program.

"After every element we were less nervous and it was closer to the end. Every element we were more happy," Mishina continued.

And how will they celebrate? They were asked. "We'll go to sleep."

A disappointed Boikova and Kozlovskii couldn't carry the momentum from the short, a 137.47 reflecting a difficult, frustrating free, scoring 217.63 overall.

Their compatriots Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov fell short on trying to win their fourth world championship medal, finishing in fourth with a 212.76.

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Mishina/Galliamov soar as other teams struggle

It was a nervy night of skating throughout the pairs competition, but Mishina/Galliamov went from element to element with fierce conviction, skating to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and matching the energy of the music with standout skating.

They earned positive Grades of Execution (GOEs) on every technical element in their program, including their difficult opening triple Salchow-Euler-triple Salchow combination, the only team to try said pass. They hit a monster triple twist next, then a throw triple Lutz as they grew in confidence.

"I don't know what to say in this moment because we don't even understand what it means yet." - Anastasia Mishina

The duo had been fourth at Russian nationals the last two seasons, but in Stockholm displayed the kind of promise they had shown in juniors on the senior international stage - and when it mattered the most.

"To stand atop the worlds podium on your debut - truly remarkable!" said Olympic ice dance champion Meryl Davis in speaking to Olympic Channel. "There was a joy throughout that program that was really refreshing to see, even without a live audience in the arena."

Mishina/Galliamov now move into pole position for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games among a fiercely competitive domestic field in Russia, which of course includes Boikova/Kozlovskii and Tarasova/Morozov, as well as a host of other teams.

Sui/Han eye home Olympic Games

It wasn't to be for the two-time world champions Sui and Han, the PyeongChang 2018 silver medallists' minor mistakes costing them the victory. Sui was called for under-rotations on two different jumps, as well as for a quarter under on another.

Their "Rain, In Your Black Eyes" free skate is a fan favourite, used for the third consecutive year and skated with poise and emotion.

The team, which hadn't skated internationally this season and had spent just two months practicing in the lead-up to worlds, has its eye on Beijing 2022: "We feel happy in this competition," said Han. "We've only been skating for eight weeks, so it's a very special experience for us.

"This is a good start for us. Our plan this year was this was our recovery. We [wanted to make our bodies healthy... so we can [compete] in the Winter Olympic Games. It's very important this period for my surgery." - Han Cong

Han had hip surgery in April of 2020.

"Even with an imperfect skate, their quality is undeniable," noted Davis. "This outing is made all the more impressive knowing that this is their first international competition since returning from a major surgery last spring." 

Skating as the final team, Boikova/Kozlovskii could not carry their short program magic into the free. A fall by Boikova on side-by-side triple toeloops led to a rash of errors, their focus clearly ruffled. Another blip came on a throw triple flip thereafter, sealing their fate.

"We didn't have any pressure or more motivation," Boikova told reporters after. "We tried to concentrate on doing our best, but, OK, it happened. I think places are not the main thing that we have."

The FSR, however, confirmed its three spots for the Olympics next year.

Also: U.S. confirms two teams for Olympics; Moore-Towers/Marinaro bounce back

There was plenty to talk about throughout the competition, starting with the Americans confirming two spots for Beijing, something they did not have in PyeongChang, when just one pair qualified.

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier finished seventh, while Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc were ninth.

While Knierim was disappointed in their topsy-turvy free, Frazier took the positives for a team that's been together for only one year: "There are a lot of good things that we showed out there. We're going to continue to grow. Alexa and I share the feeling of always wanting to be consistent and perfect. ... At the end of the day, credit is due to Alexa for leading this team this season. It's an inspiration to be on this team and we're going to keep building."

Canada's Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro came from 10th in the short program to fifth in the free to earn sixth place, behind the No.2 Chinese team, Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, who finished fifth overall.

Italy's veteran team of Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise had some redemption, too, moving from 11th to eighth, while Japan's Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi finished in 10th.

The skating continues on Friday with the rhythm dance in the afternoon and the ladies' free skate in the evening. Our live blog on Friday's action is here.