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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Skaters Poised for Gold

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With their soaring double twist lift and a throw triple loop that flew half the width of the ice rink, Russian pair Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the short program round at the World Figure Skating Championships on Monday.

The couple was the unanimous first-place choice of the nine judges. China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo edged Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier five votes to four for second place.

Any of the three pairs can take the gold medal Wednesday by winning the final freeskate, which is worth two-thirds of the total score.

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze's near-flawless rendition of a Russian folk dance should go a long way to help the twice world champions erase memories of the doping suspension that kept them out of the 2000 Worlds.

The couple was suspended from competition after Berezhnaya tested positive for a banned substance the pair linked to a cold remedy she took at the European Championships.

"Of course we were nervous. Everyone is," Sikharulidze said. "Tonight was probably our best short program this season," he added.

Russia's reigning world champions, Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov skated a technically solid, but artistically lackluster, routine to take fourth place.

While the top two pairs incurred no deductions for major errors in their performances, Sale and Pelletier lost points when she touched down with a hand and foot to avoid falling on the triple toe loop.

"We felt very good and relaxed. Everything except the toe felt very, very good," said Sale, who unraveled on that same jump at last year's Worlds and settled for fourth.

Of the boisterous, flag-waving crowd of 16,000 mostly Canadian fans, Pelletier said, "It's overwhelming. To have all those people behind you, it's hard to describe. I love it."

In the run-up to the Worlds, Sale and Pelletier posted a string of major wins, including victories over both Russian couples and the Chinese duo.

Earlier Monday in the men's qualifying sessions, all top-flight competitors who were expected to challenge for medals advanced to Tuesday's short program, including early leaders Yevgeny Plushenko and Takeshi Honda.

Todd Eldredge, Elvis Stojko and Timothy Goebel were also among the top five finishers, while reigning world champion Alexei Yagudin just squeaked into the top 10 following a disastrous performance.