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Four years after finishing a heartbreaking second place at the last Olympics, China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong finally won gold in the pair figure skating event on Saturday. Their win, likely the last medal for the host nation, capped two scandal- and tear-stained weeks for their sport with an almost flawless performance, and added an exclamation mark to China’s best medal haul in the Winter games.
Sui and Han already knew the sting of a razor-thin margin at the Olympics. On Saturday, finally, they were able to experience the joy of being on the winning side.
Their gold, like their silver four years ago, obtained the best margins: 63 hundredths of a point. When their score was posted on the scoreboard at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium, confirming their victory over Russian pair Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, Sui and Han immediately started crying with joy. Within seconds, they were gone in a festive melee of coaches and team officials, including one holding a large Chinese flag.
“I’m so happy,” Sui said, “that I feel like my dream has come true.”
With a total of 239.88 points after winning Friday’s short program and Saturday’s free skate, Sui and Han barely held off Russians Tarasova and Morozov (239.25 points). Another Russian pair, reigning world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, finished third, within two points.
Sui and Han’s victory was exactly what China had hoped for when the pairs event positioned itself as the final figure skating event at the Beijing Games. It was the first time in 60 years that pair skating, and not a more high-profile event like women’s singles, was the final skating event at the Winter Games.
In an emotional performance on “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Sui and Han passed Tarasova and Morozov, who had taken the lead minutes earlier with their own impressive free skate. The Chinese pair, however, had momentum behind them: they set a world record for points in the short program on Friday, then came back on Saturday and broke the total score record. And they had done everything with the eyes of a nation upon them.
Before the Games, China’s sporting director had set a goal for the Chinese team: to surpass the country’s previous high in gold medals at the Winter Games. The number to beat was five. Sui and Han’s gold was China’s ninth in Beijing.
Both are beloved in China and have perhaps the best nickname of any Olympian. On Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, Sui and Han are known collectively as Bucket of Scallion. The name dates back to when they were teenagers and Sui said her body was shaped like a barrel. Since Cong’s name sounds like the Mandarin word for shallot, fans put them together.
Sui and Han, both from Harbin, a city with long and harsh winters, were eager to redeem themselves after losing the gold medal to a German team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games by 43 hundredths of a point.
In Beijing, the Chinese duo faced stiff competition from three Russian duos who had lined up behind them in the standings after the short program. One by one on Saturday as the free skate progressed to its conclusion, one Russian team after another took the lead only to cede it minutes later to the Russians following them.
None of the Russians, however, were good enough to beat Sui and Han, who were bathed in applause from the small crowd of their countrymen who had been invited to watch the free skate.
Afterwards, Sui praised China, its Olympic preparations, the support she and Han had received, and their coaches.
“And also,” she added, “we want to thank our parents, who had to go through a lot in front of the TVs.”
Liu Yi contributed to the research.