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PopWatch on Ice: Shen and Zhao win pairs gold following collective gasp

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Did you or did you not gasp as loudly as NBC commentator Sandra Bezic when China’s Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao bobbled on that lift? They finally got their gold medal, China’s first in figure skating, and ended the Russian domination of the pairs discipline that lasted for 12 straight Games. (Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksandr Smirnov finished fourth, but he gets the gold in men’s thighs, if it’s any consolation.) Almost as long a wait, the time it took for Shen and Zhao to realize they’d won. If they hadn’t screamed like they did, I would have felt like such a fool for wasting all that energy rooting for them (which also included applauding every successful element and begging aloud before the final throw, “Please land it, please land it, please land it”). The only other program that gave me chills was from China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong, who rose from fourth in Torino to take the silver in Vancouver with “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. It was the final lift that got me. Everyone was a little emotional: me, Bezic, Scott Hamilton, and Tong, who kissed the ice afterward. Other thoughts from the pairs long program:

• No matter how many times I hear the music from Out of Africa, used by Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy who finished third, that sweeping melody physically overwhelms me. It’s like my mind can’t process how beautiful it sounds.

• Apparently, when men skate to love themes from ’70s films, they don’t have to wear spandex. Canada’s Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison (6th), who used to be a couple, felt “The Way We Were” was the only song that told their story. I appreciated the way she touched his hair at one point like Streisand does Redford’s in the movie, but I just kept wishing it was ice dancers I was watching. They would’ve been able to use more intimate and creative positions to build the emotion, and we wouldn’t have been distracted by her falling again on the side-by-side triples. Russia’s Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov’s “Love Story” provided a highlight of the night. Not for anything in the routine that landed them in 7th, but for the reaction it got from Canadian pairs champs-turned-TV-analysts Jamie Salé and David Pelletier. They’re Maria’s idols, and she wanted to skate to their signature piece from the 2002 Games in Vancouver as a tribute. Salé and Pelletier did not appear honored. I hope Canadian TV had already cut to commercial, because when NBC showed them, they were neither speaking nor smiling. He had a blank look on his face, she looked kinda pissed. That program got me thinking: If a couple has zero connection on the ice, is it better or worse for them to use a piece of music that tells a love story? On the one hand, it encourages the audience to fill in the blanks, on the other, it may make the lack of chemistry all the more obvious. (Also, would it be too inappropriate for U.S. champs Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett (13th) to skate a romantic number since she’s 16 and he’s 25?) On a similar note, watching China’s Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (5th), who lack any musicality, it made me wonder if they’d be better off skating to music that has a built-in story to give the audience a reference point, or if it would draw even more attention to their inability to tell one…

• I love watching Canada’s Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay (9th). Her fall on a side-by-side triple may have hit me the hardest. Their skating is so light and, as an off-the-ice couple, there’s an innocent intimacy in the way they look at and touch each other. Like the way she stood in front of him in their starting position, reached behind her and slapped his thighs as if to say, It’s you and me. Let’s do it.

• Even though they’re not a real-life pair, the USA’s Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig make you believe they care about each other on the ice. Despite problems with the jumps, they skated another personal best. (Coach Jim Peterson wasn’t moved to tears, just to ecstatic cheering, which is what the audience did after seeing that reverse lasso lift.) Side note: Please, someone give Ladwig and his wife jobs.

• Would it be possible for me to get an Olympic tissue box?

• We didn’t get to see it on NBC, but the network has the Pearl Harbor long program of Ukraine’s Tatyana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov on NBCOlympics.com. The costumes were under control this time, though we wouldn’t recommend sequins on any military uniform. Switzerland’s Anais Morand and Antoine Dorsaz appear to have been their main competition for worst dressed. Watch their free skate, and you see them grab the faux suspenders sewn into their shirts.

Your turn.

More Olympics coverage:

PopWatch on Ice: Good music, bad costumes, and questionable scoring in the pairs’ short programs

Scott Hamilton: The 5 most memorable Olympic figure skating falls

Scott Hamilton: The 5 times I was a little too excited in the broadcast booth

Scott Hamilton: The 5 programs I would have skated

Olympic Stud of Day 3: Canadian men’s moguls gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau

Olympic Stud of Day 2: U.S. speed skater Apolo Ohno

Olympic Stud of Day 1: U.S. curler Chris Plys

Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremony: Best and Worst

Photo credit: David Hecker/AFP/Getty Images