LAKE PLACID, N.Y. // The pairs team of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao picked up where they left off after a two-year retirement from figure skating, collecting 74.36 points for first place in the short program at Skate America.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov of the Ukraine are in second behind the Chinese pair with a score of 61.70 and Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin of Canada are in third place with a score of 59.64.
Dressed all in black and skating to Firebird, world champion and two-time U.S. champion Evan Lysacek won the men's short program with an explosive performance that earned him a score of 79.17.
"Overall, I like the program a lot," said Lysacek. It's something very different for me. It will continue to grow and improve."
France's Florent Amodio finished second with a score of 72.65. Brandon Mroz, in his second full season as a member of the U.S. senior team, is in third place with a score of 71.40. The men will conclude their competition Saturday evening with the free skate.
It's been 25 years since a U.S. man holding the world title went on to win Olympic gold. That skater, Scott Hamilton, is acting as Lysacek's mentor this season, counseling him on handling the spotlight and pressure.
"I don't think anyone is the one to beat in Vancouver," said Lysacek, brushing aside questions about being the front runner.
The emotional high point of the first day of competition was the comeback of Shen and Zhao. At 36, Zhao has made a career of battling back from injuries, including a ruptured Achilles tendon the year before the 2006 Winter Games. As the pair attempted to get back into shape, he suffered knee, back and shoulder injuries.
"I'm young," he said, smiling, after a program that featured seamless side-by-side jumps and spins and effortless lifts and throws.
The two-time world champions and 2006 Olympic bronze medalists quit competitive skating and got married in 2007. They were featured players in the Stars on Ice tour until they decided last May to return to competition because, as Zhao said, "we dream" of an Olympic gold medal.
They received no deductions and piled on the points for execution. The free skate is Saturday afternoon.
2009 Skate America
* Skate America TV schedule (bottom of article)