Before the 2022 Winter Olympics began, the highest pairs short program score ever recorded under the current judging system was 82.36.

That mark has been passed an astonishing five times at these Winter Games.

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong now hold the world record of 84.41 and are closing in on an Olympic gold medal in their home country and the city in which they train.

"I am so honored to break the record in my motherland," Sui said. "But the short program is just a start. We hope to show our highest level in the free skating."

Their fierce, sharp performance to the "Mission: Impossible 2" soundtrack earned 3.14 points more than any of their scores over the four years leading up these Games, and 1.58 points higher than their winning score from the team event two weeks ago.

In their 14th season together, Sui and Han are driven to best their 2018 Olympic silver medal and finally win gold at the Olympic level after doing so twice at world championships.

“Of course we want to win glory for our motherland on the ice," Sui shared. "But as Chinese competitors, we think the most important part is to show our best selves and also the strength and spirits of China.”


If Friday's astonishing short program session -- one of the best the sport has seen -- was any indication though, Sui and Han have a fight ahead of them to win the title.

"This pairs free skate is going to be the best pairs event ever," 1998 Olympic women's champion Tara Lipinski said during the broadcast.

Yevegenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of the Russian Olympic Committee are a mere 0.16 points behind Sui and Han with 84.25 points. The three-time world medalists have plenty of motivation themselves, having finished fourth at the last Olympics in 2018 and last worlds in 2021.

The reigning world champions, meanwhile, are in third and hungry to be back on top. The ROC's Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov earned a personal-best 82.76 points.

The final ROC team, Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitry Kozlovskii -- reigning world bronze medalists, is fourth after she put her hand down onto the ice and they scored a 78.59.

Showing a clear stranglehold on the top of pairs skating by two nations and two nations only, China's Peng Cheng and Jin Yang sit in fifth with 76.10 points.

The two American teams follow, both having shown some of their best short program performances to date.

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, in just their second season together, were 0.77 points from their personal best (which was skated in the team event) with 74.23 points. Knierim competed with husband and then-skating partner Chris Knierim at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they were 15th.

"Tomorrow I'm just letting go," Knierim told NBC reporter Andrea Joyce of the free skate. "Tomorrow I'm not trying to fix what I did last time, tomorrow I'm just going to be present and not fight or change how I feel -- just be myself."

A narrow tenth of a point back is Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc. LeDuc made Olympic history when the team's music began to play: They are the first publicly out nonbinary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.

Two-time Olympian Johnny Weir called it, "a spectacular moment for Timothy LeDuc to live their truth on Olympic ice."

Cain-Gribble sprained her right ankle and pulled ligaments in that leg when she fell on a solo triple loop during a practice session earlier this week, but she didn't let that stop her.

"We just kept looking at each other and we were like, it’s been six years of work to get to here and we weren’t going to let any moment get away from us," Cain-Gribble said to Joyce. "I had the injury but it was in the back of my mind; I just wanted to put out a strong performance for the both of us and for our team back home."