BOSTON >> China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong were asked about their chemistry after taking the lead in pairs at the world championships with a lively short program.
Sui, thinking the question was about romantic chemistry, quickly shot down any notion of that, teasing Han that he talks too much.
"He just feels like my father," she said through a translator.
The question was in fact about their chemistry on the ice, and the young Chinese duo once known only for their technical prowess have worked hard on their performing as they seek their first world title. Their growth showed Friday when last year's silver medalists scored 80.85 points to lead defending champs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada, who earned 78.18.
"This is what we can do," Han said.
Olympic gold medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia were third with 77.13 points after taking last season off. Five-time world champion Aliona Savchenko of Germany, skating at worlds for the first time with new partner Bruno Massot, was fourth with 74.22.
Volosozhar and Trankov and the Sochi silver medalists, compatriots Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, skipped the 2015 world championships. With the Russians returning to the competition, the Chinese and Canadian pairs proved that last year was no fluke. Stolbova and Klimov were fifth after the short program with 73.98 points.
Americans Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim were seventh after he fell on their side-by-side triple salchows.
After changing coaches three years ago, Sui and Han have spent considerable time on their edgework and have taken dance classes. Their precision and interpretation dazzled in Friday's high-energy Spanish-themed performance. And their technical prowess was evident in a big throw triple flip.
They have been skating together for almost a decade but missed the 2014 Olympics after sitting out much of the previous season because of an injury to Sui.
After Duhamel and Radford accomplished their goal of winning a world title, they found themselves a bit unfocused earlier this season — and it showed in their performances. But they were confident they regained their form coming into worlds even though they had to withdraw from the Four Continents Championships last month when she got the flu.
They lost points on their triple twist Friday, but overall it was a program that had Duhamel pumping her fists afterward.
"To finally hit that ending position and feel good with ourselves — we were starting to get very frustrated this season hitting our ending positon and feeling upset with ourselves," she said. "Enough was enough."
With a large Canadian contingent in the stands, their performance to Elton John's "Your Song" got big cheers for each element, so loud that Duhamel posed in the ending position too early because she couldn't hear the music.
Trankov wasn't thrilled with the Russians' score after their Bollywood-themed performance, in which they lost points when Volosozhar had two feet touch down on the throw triple flip. He acknowledged some rustiness considering they hadn't skated at worlds since 2013 — indeed, Friday felt a bit like competing together at the event for the first time in 2011.
Trankov noted all the eerie similarities to that experience, including placing third after the short program. That year, he added with a smile, they moved up to second after the free skate.
Back then, pairs was mostly a two-team competition between the Russians and Savchenko and her previous partner, Robin Szolkowy.
"Now it's like five, six couples," Trankov said. "It's more interesting."
After a storybook finish in Sochi, the Russians know they have nothing left to prove on the ice. And it truly was a fairy tale. Trankov reminisced fondly that Sochi was when he and Volosozhar realized they wanted to be a family. With a big grin, he couldn't help but interject to Sui and Han that just because they don't have romantic chemistry now doesn't mean it won't happen someday.
Trankov and Volosozhar got married last year and could be having kids by the time the next Olympics roll around.