GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are in position for another Olympic medal among one of the strongest pairs figure skating fields ever assembled.
The two-time world champions, who will retire after the Olympics, are third after Wednesday's short program at the Pyeongchang Olympics, scoring 76.82 points — but there are six teams within just three points of the podium.
"The level of skating is incredible and the fact that you need to score 63 points to qualify for the free skate, that's showing unbelievable depth," Duhamel said. "When I saw people getting 70s (early in the competition), I had a little 'Oh my god! What's going to happen tonight? This is insane.'"
Skating to April Meservy's cover of U2's hit song "With or Without You" — Meservy was in the Gangneung Ice Arena to watch the performance — Duhamel and Radford were virtually clean except for being slightly out of synch on their side-by-side triple Lutzes.
"Especially in a field this deep, we could have taken ourselves completely out of contention with missing a major element and we didn't do that, we kept ourselves in the mix, and that makes us feel good going forward," Radford said.
Radford was just happy to land the triple Lutz on one foot.
"The Lutz got a little shaky last season, I don't know why, maybe I'm just getting older and it's just getting more difficult," the 33-year-old said.
China's reigning world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong scored 82.39 points for the flawless skate to Canadian k.d. lang's version of "Hallelujah."
Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, representing Olympic Athletes from Russia, were the last team to go, bumping Duhamel and Radford down to third with an 81.68-point performance.
Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot were fourth with 76.59 points, but less than a point behind the Canadians.
Radford and the 31-year-old Duhamel were skating just three days after their free skate helped Canada capture gold in the team event.
They'll be one of only a couple of pairs teams to skate four times at these Games, but rather than feel weary about the hard work, Duhamel said they feel "inspired."
"Standing on that podium at the medal plaza really inspired me that I wanted to be back on that podium after the pairs event, and I think that we're using that to drive us," she said.
Canada's other pairs duos also qualified for the free skate.
Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau were 12th with 67.52 points. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro were 13th with 65.68.
Perhaps the biggest cheers of the day went to North Korean skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, who spent eight weeks last summer training alongside Duhamel and Radford in Montreal with coach (and Duhamel's husband) Bruno Marcotte.
Duhamel and Radford saw the North Koreans skate on the TV on their bus ride to the rink.
"We were really excited to see them skate so well here today," Duhamel said. "I enjoy watching their short program because I worked with them a little bit on the energy of their footwork and their death spiral, so when she starts rolling her head and getting more emotional, I'm like 'Yeah! that's what I asked her to do.'"
The North Koreans were accompanied by their country's orchestrated cheering section, that became an instant social media hit. The red-clad crowd that took up an entire section roared when the couple finished their program.
Radford hopes the Olympics will inspire a new generation of pairs figure skating fans.
"There was a nice little moment when we came on our first practice, and there was a big crowd and for every lift and death spiral that we did, there were oohs and ahs," he said. "I think that maybe it's being presented to a new audience here in Korea and maybe it will build a bigger audience because of that."
The pairs long program is Thursday.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press