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Figure skating-Canadian pair lead after short program at world championships

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Final

(Reuters) - Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps lead the pairs event after delivering an electrifying performance in front of their home crowd at the World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal on Wednesday.

Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps recorded a personal best 77.48 points in the short program with reigning world champions Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi of Japan in second place with 73.53.

Italy's Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii are third with 72.88.

Stellato-Dudek, 40, will look to become the oldest world champion - in any discipline - in Thursday's free skate.

Stellato-Dudek retired in 2001 due to injuries but returned in 2016.

"To have the support from the fans in the stands today was really incredible, today was a real privilege," Deschamps said.

The pair attacked their program despite the high expectations foisted on them.

"It's important to acknowledge the pressure," Stellato-Dudek said.

"This is our home crowd, and this is where Max is from."

The world championships are being held at Centre Bell arena, which is home to the NHL's Montreal Canadiens.

Loena Hendrickx scored a personal-best of 76.98 in the women's short program to grab a comfortable lead and put the biggest title of her career within reach.

The two-time world medallist received a standing ovation after completing her routine and the 24-year-old will look to become the first Belgian to win a singles title in Friday's free skate.

American Isabeau Levito soaked up the appreciation of the crowd after she delivered a redemptive performance following her struggles at the U.S. Championships in January.

The 17-year-old from Philadelphia is in second after earning 73.73, while 2023 world silver medallist Lee Hae-in of South Korea is close behind in third after notching 73.55.

Kaori Sakamoto sits in fourth after the two-time and reigning world champion from Japan made errors during her performance.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Toby Davis, Peter Rutherford)