Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot were flawless as the rest of the top contenders fell, and their free skate was enough to give the German pair Olympic gold.
Savchenko and Massot scored 159.31 points in their program set to music by Armand Amar on the final day of pairs skating at the Pyeongchang Games. That gave them 235.90 points, catapulting them from fourth place after a shaky short program to Germany's first pairs gold since 1952.
China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who led after the short program, recovered from a slow start to their free skate to score 153.08 points. But their early bobbles proved costly — they finished with 235.47 points, less than half a point off the top step of the podium.
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford added a bronze medal after winning team gold with Canada.
"We were two fighters," Massot said. "We were on the ice for a medal, and for a gold medal, and we didn't give up after what happened yesterday. We were ready for this competition."
Indeed, the victory was sweet vindication for the Germans, who were favored after winning the Grand Prix Final but whose error on a jump in the short program left them playing catch-up.
They caught up and flew right by.
The Ukraine-born Savchenko stuck a huge triple twist lift to open their program, and the couple was perfect on a throw triple flip. They followed with a gorgeous combination and a triple toe that drew gasps from the crowd, and a big cheer from German great Katarina Witt seated in the arena.
When the music stopped, Savchenko lay on the ice gasping for air.
The 34-year-old has followed a long and bumpy road to Olympic glory. She won five world titles with longtime partner Robin Szolkowy, and competed in the Winter Games with Stanislav Morozov early in her career. She already had twice won Olympic bronze, it took competing for her second country with her third partner in her fifth Winter Games to finally win that elusive gold.
"It's my moment," she said, gushing. "I'm just unbelievably happy."
It wasn't assured until the final pair of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov — Russians who happen to be trained by Szolkowy — struggled with the early elements of their program. The moment their scores were read, relegating them to fourth place, the German pair doubled over in tears.
Sui and Han's performance to "Turandot" by Giacomo Puccini would have been good enough for gold at any other Olympics. Like the Germans', the score posted by the Chinese was nearly 20 points better than the previous best, set during the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Duhamel and Radford indicated their bronze medal would wrap up their figure-skating careers.
"This feeling is going to last forever," he said. "It feels better than I could have imagined."
North Korea's Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, who were 11th after the short program, put together a season-best free skate to the delight of their cheering section seated in the upper level. The couple finished 13th out of 16 teams to qualify for the free skate.
"I was very nervous," Kim said, "but when I heard the crowd cheer all the hardships melted away."
Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim became the first Americans to land a quad twist in an Olympic competition when they opened their free skate with it. The spectacular, four-revolution element is so difficult that only a couple of other pairs were trying it.
The rest of their program didn't go nearly as well.
Knierim fell on both of their triple jumps, Scimeca-Knierim was shaky landing their throw triple flip and the married couple was out of sync on their combination spin. They finished 15th.
Still, their Olympics were made when they helped the U.S. win team bronze.
"Unfortunately, too many mistakes," Scimeca-Knierim said. "I was sick last night and this morning with a normal stomach bug. I had asked Chris to kind of pick up the slack for me today because I knew I was going to be more fatigued, but then my adrenalin kicked in and I rose to the occasion."
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