BOSTON – They have been partners for 10 years, since Sui Wenjing was 12 years old and Han Cong 14, and the longevity of that relationship is a critical part of what makes this Chinese team so good.
But when the question of how long it took for their chemistry to develop came up, Sui made it very clear that being a pairs skating team does not make them a couple.
Her reaction to a question meant to be about chemistry on the ice turned into a little comic interlude in the press conference that followed their dazzling performance to win Friday’s short program in the World Championships at TD Garden.
“There isn't any chemistry between us, no,” she said in no uncertain terms.
“That’s a joke,” he replied, then added, “The feeling is like cousins.”
“He talks too much every day,” she sniffed. “He’s just like my father.”
Once the meaning of the question was explained, quick-witted Russian Maxim Trankov couldn’t resist sparking a little more fun.
“Skating chemistry. . .then marriage,” deadpanned Trankov, who had just mentioned his desire to have a baby after the 2018 Olympics with Tatiana Volosozhar, his ice partner of five seasons and marital partner of seven months.
Sui and Han lit a fire on the ice, mixing eye-catching technique (have you ever seen a landing more solid than hers on a rafter-rattling throw?) with a striking sense of harmony, passion and power to music called, appropriately or ironically, “Spanish Romance.” Their score for what Han called a perfect short program was a career-best 80.85.
“They have amazing technique, and they skate really good choreography,” Trankov said, admiringly.
He and Volosozhar, reigning Olympic champions, were third (77.13) because of her two-footed landing on their throw. The Russians had not skated at worlds since winning in 2013, having taken 18 months off from competition after the 2014 Olympics.
Reigning world champions Meaghan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada, who have struggled this year, are second (78.18).
“We finally found the focus we had last season,” Radford said.
The best U.S. pair, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, went away frustrated after seeing they had managed a career-best score (71.37) despite his fall on the side-by-side jump. That mistake likely was the difference between their being in seventh instead of fourth – or even third.
“We’ve been trying to get to that mark because it has been in the 60s all season,” Knierim said. “It’s awesome because we got the high score but disappointing because it could have been bigger.”
The reigning U.S. champions, Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea, staggered into 14th (59.27) after flaws in all their airborne elements and his fall on a footwork sequence.
“I’m honestly very disappointed,” Kayne said, her candor refreshing.
The two U.S. teams have been paired less than half as long as Sui, 22, and Han, 24, who benefit from a national skating system that encourages (enforces?) long-term commitment.
The Chinese, last year’s silver medalists, won three straight world junior titles (2008-9-10), lost a season (and the 2014 Olympics) to her growth plate issues. Han said they really began to come together only after starting to train with world and Olympic champion Zhao Hongbo three years ago.
“At that time, we felt our skating and performance level had some shortcomings,” Han said. “We decided to follow whatever he said. He told us many things about how to cooperative with your partner.”
Which means how to have. . .chemistry.