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Ice-cool skaters go for glory
(China Daily) Updated:2006-02-08 10:11

  Just before China's lunar new year, Zhao Hongbo, the country's figure skating pair star skater brought his fans good news - as he pulled off spectacular triple jumps in training, after a severe injury to his Achilles tendon last August.

  With Zhao's quick recovery from his injury, the Chinese ice athletes gear up for glory at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. Like at previous Games, China pins its greatest hopes for gold on its ice athletes at this year's event.

  Successes of gold are expected in events from figure skating and short track speed skating to speed skating at the Turin Games, which will begin on February 10.

  Impressively mastering the most difficult and dangerous movement in less than half a year after the injury, Zhao and his world champion partner Shen Xue are expecting another miracle at Turin.

  Having won the world championship title twice and claiming the bronze medal at the last Winter Olympic Games at Salt Lake City in the US, standing on the highest platform of the podium is the veteran pair's final dream.

  Yao Bin, head coach of the Chinese Figure Skating Team, was the strongest supporter of Zhao.

  "If Zhao fully recovers in time, he and Shen have a high chance of winning gold for the pairs competition in Turin," said Yao, who has been coaching Zhao for 18 years.

  "We will not give up on them because of Zhao's injury," Yao added, "Even if there is only the slimmest chance, we will try our best to make a miracle."

  Chasing its first Olympic figure skating gold this time, China will send its strongest ever pairs' team to Turin. Besides Shen/Zhao, Pang Qing/Tong Jian, the former world championship bronze medallists, and Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao, who finished third at this season's ISU Grand Prix Finals in Japan, will also try to block the challenges from the talented Russian and German pairs.

  Zhao's uncertain situation has left Russia's reigning world champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin as top title favourites in the discipline. Ranking fourth behind Shen/Zhao in Salt Lake City four years ago, they have claimed consecutive titles at the 2004 and 2005 World Championships and overtaken the Chinese duo as world No 1 pair skaters this season.

  Since Zhao's success rate in performing the triple jumps is still low and the two other young pairs lack consistency in their performance, the Chinese pairs will face a close fight in Turin.

  "I believe our skaters will try their best at the Olympics and they will show fighting spirits there, which is the most important thing," said Yao.

  While, figure skating will not be the only gold opportunity for China. Speed skaters Yang Yang, Wang Meng and Wang Manli will also strive for gold on both short tracks and long tracks.

  Yang won two gold medals at the last Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002 in the short track speed skating event, breaking the gold medal jinx for China in the Winter Games. And they hope to continue the winning streak in this event this year.

  "Most skaters in our team are young guns, but we are quite confident that we can win a gold at the Games," said the team's head coach Xin Qingshan.

  The 20-year-old Wang Meng, who dominated the women's 500m races in the World Cup series this season, will make her Olympic debut in Turin and is considered China's most stable medal hopeful.

  "Competing in the Olympics is a dream of every athlete, but if I have the opportunity to win the gold, why should I just be satisfied with my debut in Turin?" Wang said. "The Olympics is the only experience that I have not had. With the results that I achieved recently, I'm fully confident of winning gold."

  Although the nation has lowered its goal to only one gold in Turin, the team also has a chance in women's 3,000m relay race.

  On the men's side, the 30-year-old Li Jiajun, a four-time Olympic medallist, will still aim for gold in the 500 metres and relay.

  The long track speed skating event will also provide China with an opportunity for success this time. Wang Manli, the reigning women's 500m world champion, is aiming for gold to conclude her skating career.

  "All I'm waiting for is an Olympic gold medal, and I'm ready for it now," said the 33-year-old Wang, who is also the oldest athlete in the Chinese team. "I will try to be the best this time."




















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