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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Figure Skating Supremacy Challenged as Russians Tumble

ReutersRussia's Yuko Kavaguti falling during her routine with compatriot Alexander Smirnov in the pairs free skating figure skating event at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Feb. 15, 2010.

VANCOUVER – Husband-and-wife team Zhao Hongbo and Shen Xue broke Russia's 46-year stranglehold on the Olympics figure skating pairs event on Monday with a mesmerizing performance worthy of 18 years' hard work together.

The duo, who came out of retirement in pursuit of Winter Games glory, earned a record combined total of 216.57 points to capture China's first title in the discipline.

Compatriots Pang Qing and Tong Jian trailed the three-times former world champions by 3.26 points, while Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy finished third.

"Today's medal is a completion of a dream after so many years," Shen, who had kissed the medal in unison with her husband while on the podium, told reporters. They had finished third in the previous two Olympics.

Job done, a grinning Shen immediately set her sights on their next goal: "It's hard to continue skating -- maybe it's time to have a baby," she told a news conference.

Russian or Soviet skaters had dominated the pairs event by winning gold at 12 successive Olympics stretching back to the 1964 Innsbruck Games but on Monday they were completely knocked off the podium after Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov both crashed to the ice in their free program. They were fourth.

The last time they won a major title, Zhao had stunned Shen by dropping to one knee at the end of their free skate at the 2007 world championships to ask her hand in marriage.

On Monday, the 36-year-old Zhao again flopped down on his knees but this time it was to celebrate that, after three missed opportunities, they had finally won the ultimate prize at their fourth Olympics. The pair had first teamed up 18 years ago.

The last among 20 couples to compete, Shen and Zhao calmly stepped on the ice even though the Pacific Coliseum was still buzzing following the stupendous display by Pang and Tong -- who had brought the crowd to their feet with their breathtaking performance to "Impossible Dream".

Tong certainly thought he had produced a winning performance as he bent down to kiss the ice after producing a near flawless display to earn the day's top mark of 141.81 for their free skate and a combined total of 213.31.

His feeling of jubilation lasted less than 10 minutes as Shen and Zhao blew away their rivals.

After opening their account with high-flying triple toeloops, those lucky souls in the arena witnessed Zhao sending his wife into orbit as they performed a back-to-back throw triple loop and throw triple salchow.

Shen landed each of the jumps with such precision it seemed as if she was performing on a metal surface with magnets attached to her blades dragging her down to the surface.

The duo's only blip was when Zhao over rotated on a double axel and were slightly out of sync in their side-by-side spins.

As it was, their score of 139.91 could not match Pang and Tong's free program but having held a healthy advantage over their Chinese rivals going into Monday, it would have taken a fall to deny them gold.

Before the return of Shen and Zhao, the Germans had been tipped to win the Olympic title.

Savchenko skated on to the ice wearing brown boots with a sequined red heart emblazoned on the heel.

There was certainly plenty of love for the couple in the arena for their emotive performance to "Out of Africa" but a crash landing by Szolkowy on the double axel sealed their fate.

Szolkowy struggled to hide his disappointment but Zhao, who had won bronze at the last two Olympics, offered him some words of wisdom.

"My advice is don't wait till you're 37 to get gold," he told the crestfallen German.