Zhangs to lead Chinese team at the worlds
Figure skaters Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, whose heroic silver was a high point of last month's Turin Winter Olympics, are poised to catapult China into pairs dominance at the world championships next week in Calgary
With Turin gold medallists Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin retiring after their Olympic triumph, there is little standing between the Chinese - who took second, third and fourth place at the Winter Games - and the world title.
The spotlight will be on the two Zhangs, who leapt to global fame after Zhang Dan fell spectacularly at the finals in Turin, only to fight through pain to return to the ice minutes later.
The pair, who are not related, picked up their routine where they had left off and won a courageous silver medal before a thrilled crowd. Doctors later said Zhang Dan had sustained a slight sprain to a ligament in her left knee.
"I've been worried about Zhang Dan's knee for a while," Chinese coach Yao Bin said before heading to Calgary with the team. "It's good that it is healing well. The joint is still a bit swollen, but has definitely taken a turn for the better."
Yao added he had told their pair to be ready for the pressure of global expectations.
"People around the world want to watch you. But considering your injury, don't worry too much about the result," he advised the pair.
A nagging injury has taken a harder toll on Olympic bronze medallists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who set out for Calgary with the Chinese delegation on Thursday but will not take the ice.
"I have not fully recovered from the injury," said Zhao, who snapped his Achilles tendon in August and had not competed again before the Olympics.
"So I gave up the world championships, but I will try next time," the 32-year-old Zhao said.
Two-time world champions Zhao and Shen were long China's top pair, but this will be the second worlds in a row they have missed because of injury.
Pang/Tong ready for gold
Since the injury of Zhang Dan is still affecting her performance, the golden chance seems to go to another Chinese pair Pang Qing and Tong Jian, who finished fourth at the Turin Games.
The former world bronze medallists are ready to take the torch for China as well.
"The aim of taking part in the competition is to win the gold," Tong said firmly before leaving for Calgary.
With the absence of Shen/Zhao and Totmianina/Marinin, the chance has been left widely open for the pair.
Known for their high twists and throws, Pang/Tong, who impressed the spectators much with their smooth and clean programme at the Turin Games, are confident with their present form.
"We have almost regained our best form like before the Turin Olympics," Tong said. "We always believed that 'No pain, no gain.' If we insist on hard training step by step, I'm sure we will harvest satisfactory results."
(China Daily 03/18/2006 page12)
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