Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot conjured up a magical world-record free dance to win Olympic pairs figure skating gold on Thursday – and promptly burst into floods of tears.
The German duo’s sensational four-and-a-half-minute routine just denied China’s world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the hot favourites who were pipped to the title by less than half a point after Sui took a tumble. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada took bronze.
The 34-year-old Savchenko’s dream of an elusive first gold at her fifth Winter Games had looked dashed after an unfortunate error by her French-born partner Massot – who only received German citizenship in November – in Wednesday’s short programme.
His double instead of a triple salchow left him distraught and them trailing their Chinese rivals in fourth.
But 24 hours later Massot righted that wrong, matching his decorated ice companion step for step, their dance to “La Terre vue du ciel” by Armand Amar holding the crowd at the Gangneung Arena in thrall.
At the end of their performance they lay in each other’s arms on the ice, before Massot bowed to his partner and they made their way to the “kiss and cry” corner, where the tears flowed when their score of 159.09 points flashed up, beating the world record they set of 157.25 at the Grand Prix Final in December.
That gave them a winning combined total of 235.90.
They had to then sit and watch as first Duhamel and Radford, team event gold medallists, then Sui and Han try but fail to deny them their moment of glory.
Sui and Han finished agonisingly adrift on 235.47 with the Canadians on 230.15.
Sui, who revealed she was feeling pain from an injury, looked visibly disappointed and said: “I was quite nervous, this being my first Olympic Games.
“We really wanted to do well, but simply fell too short in the end. But I hope that this will give us the motivation we need over the next four years to do well again at the Beijing 2022 Games.”
At the rink prize ceremony Massot, 29, lifted his ice queen onto the top of the podium, to the roar of the crowd.
Ukrainian-born Savchenko represented her country of birth in her first Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002.
She then teamed up with Robin Szolkowy to represent Germany for the last three Games, coming away with bronze from Vancouver and Sochi, and the not inconsiderable feat of five world titles.
With Szolkowy leaving the stage she turned to Massot, a native of the Normandy city of Caen who moved to Germany and received German citizenship only last November.
It was a move that paid off handsomely with this title Germany’s first in the pairs since Ria Baran and Paul Falk in 1952.
One couple that were ruing missing out on a medal was Vladimir Morozov and Evgenia Tarasova.
The European champions, competing under the Olympic Athletes from Russia flag, were placed second after the short programme, but errors in their free dance to Candyman left a sour taste and they had to settle for fourth.
Despite finishing 13th, North Korean duo Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik were thrilled at their personal-best display and touched by the reception given by the home crowd in South Korea.
With North Korea’s self-style “Army of Beauties”, a 200-strong band of cheerleaders, erupting in song at every triple twist lift and double axel, the pair earned 124.23 points to beat their previous best of 119.90 for a highest ever total of 193.63.
Kim said: “I was very nervous about the competition, but once we went in, the sight of our cheer squad and the southern countrymen cheering together offered great support and stimulation.
“I’d like to express my gratitude to the people of the South. I was deeply moved by the Olympics in the South.”