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Sweet farewell for China's lovebirds

Updated: 2014-02-14 07:21
By Lei Lei in Sochi, Russia ( China Daily)

Sweet farewell for China's lovebirds

Pang and Tong set to embark on charmed life after skating

They just missed a podium finish at their final Winter Olympics, but China's lovebirds on ice, Pang Qing and Tong Jian, bowed out in perfect harmony after a 21-year career.

The iconic duo finished fourth in Wednesday's pairs final in Sochi to close the curtain on their Olympic dream, but their story is also one of romance and love.

"We are satisfied with our performance here, although it is a little regretful that we didn't get a medal," Tong said on Wednesday night.

"But I know, even if I lose everything, we still have love between us. I still have Pang by my side."

Although the duo missed out on a medal in Sochi, it is considered China's second best pair of all time, right behind Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who won China's first pairs gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Pang and Tong first teamed up in 1993. Pang was a singles skater while Tong was an ice dancer.

Sweet farewell for China's lovebirds

They debuted at the 2000 world championships and steadily progressed over the years. After clinching bronze at the 2004 worlds, they narrowly missed out on a medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics, finishing fourth.

The duo attained a career high by winning the world championship a month later, but injuries began to take a toll.

They missed the podium at the 2008 and 2009 worlds but came back strong with new routines late in 2009 and regained their form to claim silver at the Vancouver Games. Shen and Zhao won gold a major breakthrough for China's figure skating.

"Our dream came true four years ago in Vancouver," Tong said.

"Although it was a silver, we earned a standing ovation in the free skating. That was enough."

After the pairs competition in Vancouver, Pang and Tong announced they were in love.

That would have marked a perfect ending to their careers, but they decided to continue for another four years, which were full of struggle and anguish.

Pang and Tong, who are both 34, faced many obstacles en route to the Sochi Games, but their love for each other held them together and stopped them from giving up.

After the pairs free skating at the 2012 worlds in Nice, France, Tong posted on his micro-blog: "I'm sorry for all the fans. The first stumble affected me and the whole routine a lot.

"To continue or not? We have to think about it carefully."

They ended up finishing fourth in Nice, and Tong's post was seen as an indication retirement was near.

Pang burst into tears when she found out what Tong had written.

"I thought we were still capable at that time. We could not give it all up because of a stumble. That would have been such a pity," Pang said.

Her tears drew Tong back to the rink, but their path to Sochi was strewn with illness and injuries.

After injuring his left knee last August, Tong could only complete 10 percent of his jumps successfully. According to their training regimen, that percentage should have been 80.

But once again, his love for Pang spurred him on.

"I saw pain in Pang's eyes each time I mentioned retirement, and that hurt me," Tong said.

"Her wish was very simple to skate on ice. I knew I had to be by her side."

Their persistence paid off when they won bronze at the 2013 Grand Prix final with their two best routines since the Vancouver Games.

"I felt so lucky that I decided to go on," Tong said. "If I had given up, I would have felt so guilty."

At Sochi, they skated to I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables in their free skating routine. It was considered a sequel to their 2009-10 season's program, The Impossible Dream, which earned them Olympic silver.

Some small mistakes in the jumps cost them a medal this time, although their free skating score ranked third.

Germany's four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy snatched the bronze from them with a higher score from the short program.

Home favorites Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov won gold and silver respectively.

"When I started skating, I never thought of winning the national championship, a world championship or a silver at the Olympics Games. I am very comfortable with what we have achieved," Pang said with a smile.

Tong insists they are not legends - just ordinary athletes who worked hard over a long period of time to achieve their dreams.

But others already consider them national heroes.

"They are our heroes," said Chen Lu, China's former women's singles world champion and Olympic bronze medalist.

"At their age, they had to try to maintain their form and also fight with injuries, which is very difficult. I admire them. We should give them a great ovation."

Chinese officialdom agreea.

"The team asked them to stay on and they did it successfully at their age. They are the epitome of the Olympic spirit," said Ren Hongguo, deputy director of China's Winter Sports Administrative Center.

"They should have no regrets since they have put on excellent programs for the world."

As their career neared its end, they turned their attention to marriage - and perhaps a baby.

At the end of a figure skating show in June 2011, Tong proposed marriage to Pang in front of thousands of spectators in the stands and millions watching the telecast throughout China.

A romantic wedding is in the works.

"I will think about my wedding ceremony carefully after the Olympics," Tong said.

"I hope our wedding will be a romantic one that will leave us with sweet memories forever."

As for life after retirement, Tong said they won't drift too far from the sport they love.

"I think we should do something to give back to the sport; we could coach, judge, choreograph or promote," he said.

"I hope we can bring something new to China's figure skating and lift more young skaters to the world-class level."

Undoubtedly, Pang will follow.

"I haven't thought much about life in retirement the only thing I can say is whatever Tong does, I will too. We will be together," she said.

 Sweet farewell for China's lovebirds

Tong Jian and Pang Qing skate in the pairs short program at Sochi's Iceberg Skating Palace on Tuesday. Jung Yeon-Je / Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 02/14/2014 page24)