Pairing up for cool perfection

By Lei Lei and Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)
Updated: 2017-05-09 07:21:25

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong perform the World Figure Skating Championships gala finale in Helsinki last month. The Chinese duo won the pairs title. Matikainen / Xinhua

Secrecy shrouds Sui, Han as they prepare routines for Pyeongchang

Winning the world pairs figure skating championship in Finland at the end of March validated the faith China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong placed in the medical team that performed Sui's ankle surgeries last year.

Buoyed by the impressive comeback, the pair is now focused on perfecting more artistic routines ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"We want to show the same kind of artistic expression in our program as the ice dancers," Han, 24, said after returning from recent choreography sessions in Canada, home of world champion ice dancing duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

"As we grew up, we learned to understand the stories ice dancers tell in their routines. Unlike pairs skating, which features difficult jumps and throws, ice dancing requires more artistic expression. We want to reach that same artistic level."

At the season-ending world championships in Helsinki, Sui and Han claimed their first title after two consecutive silvers. It marked the second triumph of their comeback season, following a gold medal at the Four Continents Championships in South Korea in February.

Sui underwent surgeries on both ankles in last May. Her long rehabilitation left Han to train by himself for three months and forced the pair miss the first half of the 2016-17 season.

The 21-year-old Sui, who returned to the ice last August, considers the operations a turning point in her career.

"After the surgeries, all I could think about was whether I would be able to stand up again. When it was time to get back on the ice, I couldn't imagine how difficult it would be," she said.

"But now that our performances are again touching the audiences and we are earning standing ovations, it has made me realize it was all worth it."

Sui and Han were new to pairs skating when they first teamed up in 2007. Inspired by Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, China's first Olympic championship pair, they made steady progress, claiming three consecutive world junior champion titles from 2009-12.

They missed most of the 2012-13 season while Sui recovered from an illness but bounced back to edge compatriots Pang Qing and Tong Jian for silver at the 2015 World Championships.

Pang and Tong, runners-up at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, retired after the 2015 worlds and Zhao has taken the coaching reins of the national team - opening the door for Sui and Han to fill the void.

"The experience we've gained has made us stronger," said Han. "I always believed Sui would stand up again. We dared not speak of our goals before, but now we can say with confidence that we want to win every competition we take part in. We have firm conviction and a clear goal."

After winning the worlds, Sui and Han traveled to Canada for sessions with world renowned choreographer Lori Nichol - but they're tight-lipped about new routines.

"We told Lori we want programs that will make us Olympic champions, with every step and every detail aimed at that requirement," said Sui.

"I don't want to release more about the programs right now, but I can say they are very complicated and we are confident they will be our best ever."

China dominated the Olympic pairs podiums at the 2006 and 2010 Games by having two of the top three tandems in both competitions. At the 2014 Sochi Games, Pang and Tong finished fourth.

Sui and Han are determined to reclaim the glory in Pyeongchang.

"What we have to do is to tell a better story to the audience," said Sui. "To achieve that, we have to read more books and watch more musical plays, and gain inspiration from them."

Contact the writer at leilei@chinadaily.com.cn

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