Chinese pair put troubles behind them with world championships gold in Helsinki
Chinese pair put injury nightmare behind them to claim a first world title and lay the groundwork for an Olympic challenge
Chinese pairs skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong put their injury nightmare behind them to claim a first world title and lay the groundwork for an Olympic challenge in Pyeongchang.
Silver medallists at the past two world championships the pair had looked as if their decade-long career together was over after 21-year-old Sui underwent surgery on both feet last year.
It was the latest blow in a gruelling discipline for the Harbin duo coached by Chinese skating legend Zhao Hongbo – a former three-time world and Olympic pairs champion.
But they completed the fairytale return in Helsinki on Thursday night with a gold-medal winning free skate to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
“It was a very moving performance and I think the audience could feel our emotion and our story in this programme,” said 24-year-old Han.
“We have been through many, many difficult things.”
They set themselves up for their world title challenge in Wednesday’s short programme with a high-flying acrobatic display to “Blues for Klook” giving them a personal best 81.23 points.
And they sealed gold despite Sui falling on a triple salchow jump in the free skating final.
They scored a career best 150.83 points for the free skate and 232.06 overall, winning by a margin of just 1.76 points on Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot.
Third placed Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia finished over 10 points behind, as two-time defending champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada dropped to seventh.
“I love skating, I can’t bear it if my life does not include skating,” said an emotional Sui.
“After the injury I had to learn walking like a baby, it was funny. I’m still fighting every day.”
Han recalled how tough the long months of doubt were psychologically.
“During Sui’s time in the hospital I had no holiday, I practiced alone every day. Sometimes I worked with little girls from other pairs, I borrowed them to do the lifts, but they are heavier than Sui,” he explained.
“After we started practicing again, after a very long period, we had to start from scratch, Sui had to re-learn how to walk and jump and then we could be back on the ice.
“On the ice I was just by myself watching the other pairs. I missed Sui and I wanted her to come back so badly.
“It was a very difficult time.”
They finally returned to claim the Four Continents title last month and capped their season by putting China back top of the world podium for the first time since 2010.
It was the sixth time that China have won the pairs title since coach Zhao and his now wife Shen Xue won their first gold in 2002.
Sui and Han’s dream is to emulate Zhao and Xue’s 2010 Vancouver Olympic success in South Korea next year.
“My hope is that Sui can stay healthy,” said Han.
But whatever the future brings Sui is simply enjoying being back on the ice.
“After my operation something changed for me,” she said. “I now enjoy every moment on the ice as never before.
“From the time I was a child becoming world champion was my dream. Now we want to keep going and go to the top of the podium at the Olympic Games next year.”