Song carrying mantle for Chinese singles skaters
Strong Grand Prix results make Beijing resident one of breakout stars of 2011-12 season
|Nan Song medaled at both of his Grand Prix assignments this fall. (Getty Images)|
But he didn't always feel that way. Since the age of 6, Song's path toward skating success was laid out for him. As a native of Qiqihar in China's frigid northern province of Heilongjiang, Song grew up skating in outdoor rinks.
"I was always sick as a kid, so my parents thought skating would be a great way for me to stay healthy and get stronger," said the Trophée Eric Bompard silver medalist and Cup of China bronze medalist. "It came to me naturally because skating didn't feel like work -- I was just a kid playing on the ice."
So when his parents asked him if he wanted to skate for a living, Song just smiled and nodded like a kid who just wanted to extend his playtime.
"It wasn't until my awkward teens when I began to question if skating was my real passion," Song, 21, said. "I felt stagnant, and I wasn't improving as fast as my peers in other provinces, and I began to question my dedication to the sport -- if I had the potential to go big."
After much nudging and encouragement from his coach and family members, Song gained his confidence back and has been working non-stop since. In November, Song dazzled the audience in Shanghai with a near-perfect free skate to "Hungarian Rhapsody," leading two quads and two triple Axels.
"I was very surprised by my performance; it was the best I've ever done," said Song, who now trains daily and lives at the Beijing Capital Gymnasium in the western part of the city.
He went on to shock himself with another stellar performance in Paris, putting him on the Grand Prix map, with the hope of making it to the 2012 Four Continents Championships in February. It's a rare jump for a skater who finished 22nd at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships.
After taking silver two years ago at the Junior Grand Prix Final and the world junior championships, Song's performances were disappointing last year: a 10th-place finish at Skate America and a ninth-place showing at Four Continents.
Which is why this year has come as a pleasant surprise.
"Last year's results compared with this year -- it has definitely been a big leap," Song said. "But I don't want to put too my pressure on myself. I just take each competition as it comes."
Perhaps Song is more surprised than anyone about his own success. He credits his improvement to stronger jumps, which he hopes will make him a contender in the world ranks, ahead of Sochi in 2014.
"A great performance is more than just jumps, so I'm still trying to work on my presentation and choreography," said Song, who, despite being perceived as introverted, has secured heartthrob status, attracting throngs of Chinese fans.
Song, however, finds his new-found fame somewhat puzzling and endearing.
"I love my fans, but I don't know where they get this notion that I am a shy person," Song said with a hearty laugh. "I'm a very chill person but can be intense when it comes to practice and focusing on improving my skating.
A recent incident in Paris is perhaps more indicative of Song's character than how he has been portrayed by the media. After an exhausting performance at Trophée Bompard, Song fell asleep in his hotel room, only to forget about the awards ceremony. He finally made it to the arena after a judge came to the hotel room looking for him.
"I don't know what I was thinking! Actually, sleep was the only thing on my mind after that performance," said Song, laughing. "I guess I can be forgetful at times, especially when jetlag is involved."
With two strong competitions behind him, Song says he is now concentrating on improving his overall performance and confidence, hopefully putting him in the top five in the world.
"Before the competition, I have to psyche myself out, remind myself that I am the best and I can do it," said Song. "Positive thinking and putting doubts aside definitely give me a boost of energy and confidence."
As Chinese pairs skaters continue to dominate, Song says he sees potential in China to become a serious contender in singles skating as well. With the growing success of skaters like Song, that could very well happen.