Figure skating pairs eager for first Olympic gold

Updated: 2007-12-28 09:10

Olympic gold has eluded Chinese pairs skaters for several years now.

At the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo were among the title contenders but settled for bronze.

Shen Xue/Zhao Hongbo

Pang Qing/Tong Jian

Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao

Four years later in Turin, the Chinese brought another strong group of skaters, but narrowly missed the target as Shen/Zhao, Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao, and Pang Qing/Tong Jian captured three of the top four places, but no gold.

"We will never give up," said Chinese head coach Yao Bin, whom home fans know as the "godfather of Chinese figure skating".

"We have no choice but to work harder to make our dream come true at Vancouver."

Even though Shen/Zhao decided to take an indefinite break from skating in early 2007, Zhang/Zhang, the runners-up at the Turin Games, and Pang/Tong, the 2006 world champions, will continue their pursuit of China's first-ever Olympic figure skating gold. But they will face stiff competition from their European and American rivals.

At the World Grand Prix Finals one week ago, Zhang/Zhang and Pang/Tong followed a familiar script, finishing second and third, respectively, behind Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

"We have no advantage at all," coach Yao said. "On the contrary, the new rules gave Savchenko/Szolkowy an advantage over Zhang/Zhang and Pang/Tong in difficulty assessment, which means Savchenko/Szolkowy would have a better chance to win if all three pairs finished their programs cleanly.

"Savchenko and Szolkowy are very good skaters, and some other pairs from Canada, the US and Russia are also coming up very quickly," Yao added. "We have to work really hard to stay in the top class."

Though the Chinese are considered a force in pairs skating, they need to keep improving if they want a chance for gold in Vancouver, said Ren Hongguo, deputy president of the Chinese Skiing Association.

"The results of the World Grand Prix do not matter much. The important thing is that we must have better performances over the next two years," he said. "Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao need to improve their artistic performance, while Pang Qing and Tong Jian need to work on their level of difficulty."

Zhang Hao, who teamed with Zhang Dan to win the Changchun leg of the China Grand Prix over Pang/Tong on Monday, regretted his mistakes at the Grand Prix Finals in Turin.

"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 Turin Games, also hope to win the Olympic gold medal.

"We have already tasted the world championship, our next objective is the Olympics," Tong Jian said. "We will try our best to stay in the top class in the next two years and then make our final sprint at the Olympic Games."


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