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Opining on Sochi: Brilliant skating, fight for bronze, Pang/Tong's last short

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The first day of the individual events in figure skating wrapped up today. The pairs brought so much greatness to their short programs. It was truly Olympic-caliber competition. What did today's competition mean for tomorrow's free skates? Let's take a look.

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Play-by-play/results: Pairs' short

Two left for gold
As expected, we are down to two pairs fighting for the gold medal after the short program. Four-time World champs Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy debuted their readapted Pink Panther program for the short and skated brilliantly. But it was current World champs Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov who scored a world record with another clean short program to take a four-point lead into the free skate.

Related: Base value analysis

Looking ahead to tomorrow's free skates, what we know is that neither of these teams are necessarily immune to mistakes. Volosozhar/Trankov looked like they were at the beginning of the season, but their last two free skates in competition had multiple mistakes. And it will take at least one mistake from Volosozhar/Trankov and a clean program from Savchenko/Szolkowy to switch the standings. If both skate cleanly, it will be next to impossible for the Germans to overtake the Russians.

Bronze bronze bronze
After the top two, there are five pairs within five points of each other, led by Russia's number two, Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (who, incredulously, were not shown on the NBC broadcast tonight). They are capable of a big score in the free skate, but because their planned base value is not as high as those of the other contenders, they will need to rely on cleanness and, subsequently, high PCSs in order to keep their lead.

For me, the most likely to challenge Stolbova/Klimov are reigning silver medalists Qing Pang/Jian Tong and World bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, fourth and fifth currently. Why? Pang/Tong can garner higher PCSs than Stolbova/Klimov, and if it weren't for an underrotated triple toe, they would actually be in third over the Russians. Duhamel/Radford have one of the highest planned base values of any of the pairs, which can eliminate the disadvantage that they have to Stolbova/Klimov in components.

If all three skate cleanly, I see Pang/Tong taking the bronze - higher base value than the Russians and highest PCS potential of the three. Could their final competition appearance be another magical one?

Pang/Tong's last short program
Speaking of which, Pang/Tong were certainly the sentimental favorites here today. Two decades of skating together, a heartbreaker of a loss in Vancouver, and an elegance and connection that are unmatched in the field. There are a lot of people rooting for them to end their career tomorrow on a very high note.

Castelli/Shnapir show potential
No American pair has ever posted an international short program score as high as Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir did today. It's great to see, because the international panel is showing increasing respect for this pair and acknowledging the growth that they have gone through in the past two seasons.

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