CHANGCHUN - Chinese pairs skaters have been striving for their first Olympic gold medal for quite a few years.
Shen Xue/Zhao Hongbo
Before the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo were among the title contenders, but they finished with a bronze.
Four years later, the Chinese team came back strongly as Shen/Zhao led teammates Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao and Pang Qing/Tong Jian into the title contention at Turino. However, for the second time in a row, they narrowed missed the target, capturing all top four places except the first.
"We will never give up," said Chinese head coach Yao Bin, who was nicknamed "godfather of Chinese figure skating" by home fans. "We have no choice but working harder to make our dream come true at Vancouver."
Following the decision of Shen/Zhao to briefly leave the skating rink early in 2007, Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao, the runners-up at the Turino Games, and Pang Qing/Tong Jian, the 2006 world champions, continued their pursuit of China's first ever Olympic figure skating gold. But they will face tough challenge from European and American rivals.
Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao
Just one week ago, at the World Grand Prix Finals, Zhang/Zhang and Pang/Tong finished second and third respectively behind Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.
"We have no advantage at all," Yao said. "On the contrary, following the adoption of new rules, Savchenko/Szolkowy had advantage over Zhang/Zhang and Pang/Tong in difficulty assessment, which means Savchenko/Szolkowy would have better chance to win if all the three pairs finished their programs cleanly."
"Savchenko and Szolkowy are very good skaters, and some other pairs from Canada, the United States and Russia are also coming up very quickly," Yao added. "We have to work really hard to stay in the top class."
The Chinese, who have been recognized as a strong power in pairs skating in recent years, need to keep improving to have a better chance for the gold at the Vancouver Games, according to Ren Hongguo, deputy president of the Chinese Skiing Association.
Pang Qing/Tong Jian
"The results of the World Grand Prix do not matter much, the important thing is that we have to have better performance in the next two years," said Ren Hongguo. "Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao need to improve their artistical performance, while Pang Qing and Tong Jian have to work on difficulties."
Zhang Hao, who teamed with Zhang Dan to win the China Grand Prix Changchun leg over Pang/Tong on Monday, looked back with regret on his mistake at the Grand Prix Finals in Turino.
"I have never made any mistake on an easy jump like that, I was really frustrated," he said. "If I did not make the mistake, maybe we would have a chance to win."
"But that's OK. We will work harder and our target is to win the Olympic gold medal."
Pang Qing and Tong Jian, who finished fourth at the Turino Games, were also dreaming of winning the Olympic gold medal.
"We have already tasted the world championship, our next objective is the Olympics," said Tong Jian. "We will try our best to stay in the top class in the next two years and then make the final sprint at the Olympic Games."