GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The Chinese pair of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong skated a flawless, season-best short program to take the slimmest of leads over Russian skaters Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov after the first day of pairs competition at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Sui and Han scored 82.39 points for their breathtaking, almost ethereal version of the Leonard Cohen song ‘‘Hallelujah.’’ The reigning world champions slid into an embrace on their knees as the music came to its dramatic conclusion, holding the pose as the crowd roared its approval.
Tarasova and Morozov, skating last among the 22 teams, scored 81.68 points to a piano concerto by Rachmaninov. That also was a season-best for the pair, and keeps them in contention for the gold medal heading into Thursday’s free skate at Gangneung Ice Arena.
‘‘We managed to pull off all the elements,’’ Tarasova said through an interpreter, ‘‘and tomorrow we’ll have to pull ourselves together. It’s a new day, a new program and a new fight begins.’’
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada were third with 76.82 points, less than a point ahead of German favorites Aliona Savchenkno and Bruno Massot, whose technical scores took a massive dip when the French-born Massot did a double salchow instead of the planned triple.
That cost them about 4 points, possibly putting gold out of reach.
‘‘We tried to do our best but mistakes happened, but there is nothing we can do about it now,’’ Savchenko said. ‘‘We have to look forward to the long program.’’
There were seven couples within 3 points of the Canadians, which means there could be quite the dramatic race for the podium. Among them are Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao of China, who scored a season-best 75.58 points to ‘‘Swan Lake,’’ and Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France, whose Ed Sheeren version of ‘‘Make It Rain’’ left them pumping their fists as they skated off the ice.
‘‘The level of pairs skating was extremely high today, as we as pairs skaters expected,’’ said Duhamel, who helped the Canadians win team gold. ‘‘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.’’
The biggest cheers of the day came earlier in the competition — and were choreographed. That’s because North Korean skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik made their figure-skating debut, accompanied by their nation’s orchestrated cheering section. They clapped enthusiastically for even the most simple of elements during the warmups, then roared when the couple finished its program to English rock musician Jeff Beck’s rendition of ‘‘A Day in the Life.’’
As soon as the pair’s scores were read, their cheering section left in single file.
The only American pair, Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim, struggled a bit after helping the US win team bronze. She over-rotated a bit on their triple twist lift, he stepped out on their side-by-side triple salchow, and she put a hand down landing their throw triple flip.
It hardly dampened the married couple’s Valentine’s Day enthusiasm, though. He gave her a giant, white teddy bear in the kiss-and-cry area while awaiting their scores, and she gave him a big kiss.
‘‘We knew that today was going to be a special day for us,’’ Scimeca-Knierim said. ‘‘You never know if we will be back on Olympic ice again, so we promised each other no matter what happens, mistakes or not, that we were going to be present every single second and really to soak in the moment.’’