Olympic Figure Skating: Chinese veteran hopes for miracle in Turin

With the February Winter Olympics in Turin just around the corner, Chinese veteran pairs skater Zhao Hongbo was racing against time.

Less than six months after breaking his Achilles tendon in a practice session in early August, Zhao has recovered amazingly quickly and well enough to skate to all his selected movements except a triple-triple jump combination, from which he received the untimely injury.

However, his time is almost up.

Taking the risk of breaking his Achilles tendon for a second time, the 32-year-old Zhao, two-time world champion and a bronze medallist at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, was trying the difficult jumps determinedly in order to make his third and last bid for the Olympic gold medal with partner Shen Xue.

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

"If only Zhao recovers in time, he and Shen will be the closest ones to the pairs gold in Turin," said Yao, who has been coaching Zhao for 18 years.

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

Zhao's uncertain situation left reigning world champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin as top title favorites in the discipline.

Ranking fourth behind Shen/Zhao in Salt Lake City four years ago, the Russian pair has claimed consecutive titles at the 2004 and 2005 World Championships and overtaken the Chinese duo as world No. 1 pair skaters.

But they will meet a bold challenge from Chinese rising stars Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, who has won the Interantional Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix competitions in Japan and Canada this season before finishing second to Totmianina and Marinin in the Final in Tokyo.

While China is chasing its first gold medal in the Olympic figure skating, traditional powerhouse Russia will attempt to sweep all the four golds on offer in Turin.

Evgeni Plushenko, a three-time world champion and runner-up to Russian compatriot Alexei Yagudin, was favored for gold in the men's singles with Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland and Canadian Emanuel Sandhu considered as other title contenders.

Moreover, the 2005 world champion Irina Slutskaya will strive to become the first Russian to claim the top honor in the women's singles competition.

Since Japanese teenager Mao Asada, the only skater who has beaten her this season, is not old enough to qualify for the Olympics, Slutskaya will have an even better chance to turn her silver in the Salt Lake City Games into gold in Turin.

American Sasha Cohen, Michelle Kwan and Japanese Fumie Suguri were also expected to be competitive in the women's discipline.

The Russian team of Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov showed their dominance in ice dancing by sweeping all the competitions they entered this season and should be the duo to beat in Turin.

Source: Xinhua

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