Having only been teamed up for one year, Zhang Yue and Wang Lei, a young Chinese figure-skating duo, took the bronze at the 2007-08 International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Tallinn, Estonia last month.
The good performance and results of their first international competition was very motivating for them and for the whole Chinese national figure skating team.
"We can say at present that we still have a back-up team for China's figure skating," said Yao Bin, head coach of China's figure skating national team. "Zhang and Wang are at a level relatively close to the senior skaters and I hope they will get better and better in two or three years."
This March China's top figure skating pair Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo decided to withdraw from the competitions temporarily before coming back to prepare for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. With Pang Qing/Tong Jian and Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao as the only two pairs in the pool keeping China's hope alive to compete in international pairs figure skating, head coach Yao started trying to find younger talents.
"Zhang/Wang's movements are very coordinative, and their performances are always stable, which are their advantages," said Yao. "But having learned no basics of pairs skating before, Wang still lacks strength."
Zhang, 14, and Wang, 19, still have a long way to go if they want to catch up with their world champion teammates.
"We can do good jumps and throws, but we still have to improve our teamwork and level of difficulty in lifts and twists," said Wang. "Finishing third at our first international competition encouraged us very much and we are very confident to take on the success of China's figure skating in the future."
Besides Zhang/Wang, two other pairs, Dong Huibo/Wu Yiming and Li Jiaqi/Xu Jiankun, are also training with Yao's national team right now.
At the 2007 Figure Skating National Championships last week, Li and Xu claimed the bronze medal following the two Zhangs and Pang/Tong, while Dong/Wu and Zhang/Wang finished in fourth and fifth respectively.
But Yao is still cautious in predicting the future of those young pairs.
"As they grow up physically and mentally, there will be unpredictable changes, so it's hard to say when they will step onto the world's top," said Yao. "We have to wait and see."
After the national championships, Zhang/Wang and Dong/Wu are heading for the next stop of Junior Grand Prix in Sheffield, Great Britain. Zhang/Wang will try to acquire enough points to qualify for the finals.
Hopes in singles
Chinese skating officials are not only searching for young talents in the pairs, but in men's and women's singles as well.
Some young men's singles skaters have already entered their view.
Eighteen-year-old Guan Jinlin claimed the gold at the 2007-08 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Tallinn, while Yang Chao, also 18, finished in third.
"Together with the Asian Winter Games champion Xu Ming, those young men's singles skaters are in good form recently," said Yang Dong, director of the Figure Skating Department of China's Winter Sports Administrative Center.
But the women's side does not seem to be as optimistic as the men's.
After the retirement of world champion Chen Lu, China's women's singles have always lingered in low tide.
The 23-year-old Liu Yan, who finished in only 11th place at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games, and 19-year-old Xu Binshu, who took the bronze at the 2004-05 Junior Grand Prix Finals, are the only hopes.
"The overall condition of the women's team is not very good, and we are experiencing a temporary shortage of reserve team members," said Yang. "Since the level of our coaches is relatively low, we are considering inviting foreign coaches for lectures and clinics."
Source: China Daily