SOCHI, Russia (AFP) - Olympic team gold medallists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are poised to restore Russia's pairs' supremacy at the Winter Games as they set a new world record in the short programme on Tuesday.
Trankov, resplendent in a military-themed outfit, and Volosozhar, in a ballroom-style dress, performed flawlessly to Masquerade Waltz by Aram Khachaturian to score 84.17 points.
It gave them a 4.53-point lead on Olympic bronze medallists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, with fellow Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, also team gold medallists, sitting third nearly six points behind the leaders.
They were watched by two-time winners Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov who won the first Olympic pairs title for the former Soviet Union at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.
Skaters from the Soviet Union and Russia won 12 straight titles until the 2010 Vancouver Games when they failed to medal.
"For us it's very important to give back to Russia this tradition," said Trankov.
"Fifty-years ago they (Belousova and Protopopov) beat the German world champions in the Olympic Games. So it's like a new circle in the story."
The Russians opened with a high triple twist, and included perfectly timed side-by-side triple toeloops and a throw triple loop to the deafening roars of the crowd as they landed each jump.
"There were moments when things seemed easy and I thought I was just flying but I had to check myself before the emotions took over," said 27-year-old Trankov.
PARTISAN HOME CROWD
"The Olympics in Russia - I don't know when it will happen again and it's something we'll take with us for the rest of our lives. The whole country is giving us their support now."
The performance bettered the 83.98 they achieved on their way to a third European title in January to the delight of the partisan home crowd and a sea of red and white Russian flags at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
"We finally set a record which is above 84 points," added Trankov, who only teamed up with Volosozhar after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
They previously competed successfully with other partners - Volosozhar for Ukraine with Stanislav Morozov, who is now their coach, and Trankov for Russia with Maria Mukhortova.
"We are skating with the two other wonderful teams who never let us relax and stop progressing," said Volozhar after improving their short programme score for the fourth time this season.
Four-time world champions Savchenko and Szolkowy, who lost their world title to the Russians last year, achieved their season's best 79.64 for a crowd-pleasing Pink Panther routine.
"When you're having fun doing your routine and the audience goes with it, it just makes you feel good and less nervous," said Savchenko, clad in a hot pink catsuit.
The Grand Prix winners returned to the programme which won them their third world title in 2011 after trailing the Russians at the European championships before withdrawing when Savchenko was sick.
"Nothing is lost, everything is still open and possible," added Szolkowy.
Stolbova and Klimov's Flamenco earned them 75.21 to pull ahead of Chinese veterans Pang Qing and Tong Jian, silver medallists in Vancouver, who achieved 73.30 after Pang under-rotated his triple toeloop.
"It's our last Olympic Games and I want to enjoy it and make it more meaningful," said 34-year-old Tong. "It's time to say goodbye to the ice rink, and I hope we can have a happy ending."
There were some comical moments on the ice as Italy's Matteo Guarise fell before even starting his routine, to leave him and partner Nicole Della Monica in 16th place - the final spot for qualifying for Wednesday's free skate final.