China's Sui and Han top pairs short programme at Grand Prix Final

Turin (Italy) (AFP) –


China's two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong backed up their billing as pairs title favourites by taking the lead after Friday's short programme at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Turin.

Sui and Han, gold medallists at the 2017 and 2019 world championships, scored 77.50 points to head a trio of young Russian pairs at the Palavela.

Skate Canada and Cup of Russia winners Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii are second on 76.65 with Daria Pavliuchenkova and Denis Khodykin third on 75.16.

Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov are fourth (71.48) ahead of China's Peng Cheng and Jin Yang (69.67) while Canadian duo Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro (67.09) are last going into Saturday's free skate.

Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu begins his bid to become the first figure skater to win Grand Prix Final gold five times later Thursday in the men's short programme.

Hanyu returns to the six-skater elite event after a two-year absence looking to topple US rival Nathan Chen and lay the groundwork to reclaim the world title next March.

Hanyu, who turns 25 this week, won four consecutive Grand Prix Final titles between 2013 and 2016, and a fifth would see him overtake Russian great Yevgeny Plushenko and Irina Slutskaya.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist has been in hot form with two of the highest scores this season, and wins in Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy at home in Japan.

Two-time world champion Chen, 20, also has two wins in Skate America and the French Grand Prix, as he targets back-to-back titles in the final.