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Pang, Tong wait on wedding, seek medal in Nice

Chinese veterans compete in 14th worlds; Germans at '99 percent'

Qing Pang and Jian Tong have delayed their wedding in order to focus on competing.
Qing Pang and Jian Tong have delayed their wedding in order to focus on competing. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/19/2012) - After announcing their engagement and possible retirement, Qing Pang and Jian Tong are back for more.

China's two-time (2006 and 2010) world pairs champions, who have skated together for nearly 20 years, won a record fourth title at the 2011 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Chinese Taipei. There, Tong said it might be one of their final competitions and hinted at a wedding.

After winning bronze at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow, the two did not compete in last fall's Grand Prix Series, taking time to heal some lingering injuries, including knee problems.

The break refueled their competitive fire, and wedding plans are now on hold.

"We mainly took some good rest, and then decided to come back to competing again," Tong said via an email interview last week. "Compared with before, we do have more difficulties [physically], but we still feel we are in good form. Like any other athletes, we have injuries. However, nothing serious, and we feel pretty good."

Pang and Tong -- who were teamed up by coach Bin Yao in 1993 -- last competed at the 2012 National Winter Games in January, defeating longtime teammates Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang. While they hit their trademark huge triple twist and throws, Pang faltered on a triple toe and double Axel in their free skate, and they also aborted their final lift.

"The two programs we have for this year are choreographed by Lori [Nichol]," Tong said. "The short [to Chopin's "Nocturne in C sharp minor"] has been revised since last season, and the long [to Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade] is brand new."

Prior to the Asian Games, the duo worked with Shae-Lynn Bourne at Toronto's Granite Club, polishing their programs and brushing up their skating skills.

"They just wanted the finesse, better skating, not touching their choreography but just making it even better," Bourne said. "So they came for two full weeks to Toronto. I got to work with them twice a day. We just worked on quality, connection, that part of the package. There's more feeling; she's looking more feminine. I think they're in great shape."

At the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, the veterans will be joined by three-time world junior champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, competing at their first senior worlds. Sui is half their age; Cong is some 13 years younger.

"The new pair has started to train some very difficult moves (including quad twist and throw quad Salchow) at a very young age," Pang said. "They have great potential, and their coach (Bo Luan) used to pair with our coach when they were competing."

In Nice, the Chinese teams will seek to qualify three pairs for next season's worlds. At last year's worlds in Moscow, two other Chinese pairs placed 13th and 14th, so despite Pang and Tong's bronze medal, China is only eligible to send two pairs this season.

Still, the placement doesn't seem uppermost in the skaters' thoughts.

"We want to skate two very beautiful programs for the audience," Pang said.

Next season, Pang and Tong plan to return to full-time competition, with hopes for another Olympic medal.

"We definitely hope to take part in the Sochi Olympics," Tong said.

So when is the wedding?

"I proposed to Qing Pang when we were performing in China [in Shanghai in June 2011]," he said. "There were flowers, piano played by Lang Lang, 20,000 people in the Chinese audience and nationwide live TV coverage. I bared my heart to Qing Pang in front of everyone, and I was very emotional and nervous.

"However, we really do not have wedding plans for the time being, as we still need to compete."

Germans pronounce themselves '99 percent' fit

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and their coach, Ingo Steuer, are hunkered down in their training rink in Chemnitz, refusing interviews as they prepare to defend their world pairs title in Nice.

The Germans, who won world titles in 2008 and 2009 as well as last season, withdrew from the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships in January after Savchenko tore a muscle in her upper left thigh while attempting a throw triple Axel in practice. Despite the injury, the pair performed in eight Swiss Art on Ice shows in Zurich and Lausanne the first week of February, avoiding spins, triple jumps and triple throws.

Upon her return to Chemnitz, Savchenko was treated by Dr. Manfred Kupfer, a well-known orthopedist and specialist in sports injuries.

It now appears the pair is back on track.

"We have reached 99 percent of our shape now, and next week we will be 100 percent fit," Szolkowy said after a practice last week, during which fans reported seeing them try throw triple Axels. "We are going to Nice in an optimistic mood. We have no more problems with Aliona's injury."

In Nice, the Germans will be challenged by world silver medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia, who placed a razor-close second to Savchenko and Szolkowy at the Grand Prix Final in December and won their first European title in the Germans' absence.

"After winning worlds three times, a fourth time would be very nice, but is not the most important thing to us," Szolkowy said in Sheffield. "Everything is in preparation for our main goal, which remains an Olympic gold medal in 2014."

Klaus-Reinhold Kany contributed to this article.