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Chinese skaters perfect silver medalists
Updated: 2004-03-25 14:19

The real stars of the world figure skating championships are not Evgeny Plushenko or Michelle Kwan. They are the Chinese pair skaters, headed by Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo and their coach, Yao Bin.

Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo (R) from China perform during the pair's free-skating competition at the World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund, Germany March 24, 2004. [Reuters]
Wednesday night, Shen and Zhao did not win, but they won over the crowd. They earned a silver medal, but, more significantly, an unprecedented 12 perfect marks out of 6 for their long programme.

The crowd, moved by their Nutcracker Suite routine, gave them the loudest, longest standing ovation of the week. The crowd began to chant "Six, six, six," something that happens only in special moments in figure skating.

Russians Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won their first world title. They received one 6.

Shen and Zhao did not win because they were only fourth after the short program, hobbled after Zhao fell on a triple toe loop.

Three Chinese pairs finished in the top five. The No.2-ranked Chinese pair, Pang Qing and Tong Jian, won their first world medal, a bronze. Another young pair, former world junior pairs champions Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, finished fifth, an improvement on their sixth-place finish last year.

It was a triumphant moment for Yao, who has basically created the pairs program in China. And it was a particularly precious moment for Yao, who skated in his first world championship 24 years ago in Dortmund. He finished last. People laughed at Chinese pair skaters then. Not any more.

Pang Qing (T) and Tong Jian from China perform during the pair's free-skating competition at the World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund, Germany March 24, 2004. [Reuters]
Yao said the Westfalenhallen rink still has the same seats that he remembered from so long ago. When he showed up in Dortmund in 1980, Yao had been with his partner for only four months. He had never been outside China. What he saw was a complete revelation.

He knew about pairs techniques only from television. He was not prepared for the kind of techniques and hand holds and elements that he saw in Dortmund 24 years ago or all of the things he saw outside the rink.

Now, he is the man who turns out skaters who perform firsts. The Zhangs were the first to do a quadruple twist at a world junior championships, in 2000. Shen and Zhao have been practising quadruple Salchow throw jumps off and on.

Not only that, Shen and Zhao have the ability to weave a spell. Ten of their perfect marks were for presentation.

"I think it's very important for Shen and Zhao," Yao said. "Many years ago, somebody told me all Chinese pairs skaters only have good technique, throws and lifts. You can't do expression. Second mark usually low. I think now they can."

Yao beamed and he could not stop. "History is being made in China," he said. "I'm so happy. This is my job. I live it. I want it. I think this is so exciting for all Chinese."

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