Russian skate teen Medvedeva stars as Chinese top pairs

Emmeline MOORE
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Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva competes in the women’s short program at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland on March 29, 2017

Evgenia Medvedeva showed off her incredible jumping skills to stay on track for a second title as China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong topped a drama-filled pairs competition at the world figure skating championships on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old Medvedeva -- on a winning streak in nine consecutive competitions going back to December 2015 -- stuck to her winning formula of a physically challenging short programme packed with jumps in the second half.

The European champion's score of 79.01 points was just below the world record 79.21 she posted on her way to gold in the Grand Prix final in December.

"It's working out nicely so I'm going to continue like this," said the Russian, who leads surprise Canadian duo Kaetlyn Osmond (75.98) and Gabrielle Daleman going into Friday's free programme.

But in the pairs competition two-time pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada were struggling to defend their crown after placing seventh in the short programme.

Hampered by Radford's hip muscle spasm the pair delivered an error-strewn performance in the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki to the music "Killer" by Seal.

Sui and Han -- silver medallists behind the Canadians at the past two worlds -- scored 81.23 points for their programme to Eddy Louiss's "Blues for Klook".

They lead Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (79.84) and Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (79.37), who competed despite Tarasova receiving knee stitches after a deep cut in practice.

"She is a hero for all our country and for me," said Morozov.

Radford also vowed to continue to Thursday's free skating final.

"We just have another four-and-a-half minutes so hopefully we can get there," said the 32-year-old.

"We thrive in this position," warned Duhamel. "We can still win the long (programme), it might not get us a gold medal but anything's possible."

The Chinese were delighted with their personal best score.

Sui said: "I had surgery last year and a hard time. When I came back to the ice rink I just wanted to enjoy every day."

- 'Confident, comfortable' -

Earlier, a blue-clad Medvedeva stole the show as she glided across the ice to the music "River Flows in You" by Lorenzo de Luca.

After an opening camel spin and step sequence she reeled off a triple flip-triple toeloop combination, triple loop and double axel, finishing off in style with a layback spin.

"I really had fun as usual. I'm feeling confident and comfortable," she said.

"Last year I didn't quite understand what was happening because it was my first world senior championship.

"Now I don't feel any pressure, I feel very motivated and the support of the crowd, that they feel my programme as I feel it, they feel what I want to tell with my skating and it's really amazing."

But the battle will be tight with Osmond and Daleman still in with a shot of a first women's gold for Canada since 1973.

And despiting sitting seventh, American Ashley Wagner (69.04) feels she can better her silver last year.

"I'm looking not at my place but at my score. It's really set me up for the free skate," said 26-year-old Wagner.

- More spins please -

Among the Japanese contingent -- bidding to keep their three spots at next year's Winter Olympics -- Four Continents winner Mai Mihara dropped to 15th after a fall.

Teammate Wakaba Higuchi, at 16 the youngest competitor in Helsinki, was sitting ninth and Rika Hongo in 12th.

Meanwhile, former world champion Carolina Kostner of Italy, the 2012 world champion and 2014 Olympic bronze medallist, slipped to eighth after errors.

"Of course it's not nice to be here and make a mistake, but the important thing is to be able to fight," she said.

But her Russian coach Alexi Mishin, who has coached stars including Yevgeny Plushenko, took her to task.

"Less chatter, more skating! And more spins," barked Mishin.

The competition continues on Thursday with Spaniard Javier Fernandez opening his bid for a third straight men's title.