I am lucky to be able to see lots of skating. I am equally lucky to be able to see lots of skaters on the rise before they hit the general radar and such is the case with China’s Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang.

Sitting in the lobby of a Toronto area arena I told them that I had seen them live for the first time in Beijing at a 4Cs and did my own sassy little arm roll depicting their Latin music. For fun, Hao did the same move from long ago for Lori Nichol on the floor and they both giggled. Let’s just say their artistry has evolved since then 🙂

Fast forward to the Olympic arena in Torino in 2006 where in the opening moments of their free program, Dan fell out of a quad sal throw attempt, landing on her knees and crashing into the boards. It was a shock to see it and the ensuing flurry of activity rinkside erupted almost immediately. At one point, Hao guided Dan away from the boards and gently had his hands on her hips, bent towards her and was talking to her with intensity. At the time, from my vantage point, it appeared as if he he was giving her the choice to continue. The tenderness and intensity of the moment is still in my head. I asked him what he said:

“Are you ok? Are we continuing? My thinking inside was very complex. I wanted very much to continue but I knew that this was a serious injury even without being a doctor. I didn’t want her to be more hurt.”

Remarkably, they finished the competition and earned the Olympic Silver medal for their efforts. Where are those medals? Dan says that hers is at home while Hao says that his is in a bank safety deposit box: “it is the most precious thing in my life to me. Skating is my life.”

The two have been skating together for about 12 years. Both were singles skaters although Hao admits to having another partner for about a month or 2 just for fun prior to being partnered with Dan. Being from Harbin fueled Hao’s passion for the sport:

“I love everything about figure skating. I was born for figure skating. Why? Because I am from Harbin – The Ice City. I am very proud of that.” For Dan, skating is “not only a sport. It has technical part in competition but this is art. It is dancing with music and is very enjoyable.”

Partners and friends on the ice, Dan and Hao maintain their separate identities off the ice where she spends her time with her friends, including a non-skating best friend doing the regular round of young women’s activities like shopping and outings. For Hao, interpreter and international judge Feng Huang explained that Hao has a lot of friends and is really quite famous in China. Not only does he act as a mentor and older brother figure to the younger skaters in China’s program, he also likes to travel and spend time with non-skating friends. With Hao’s easy smile and friendliness, he never looks far for company.

Theirs is a partnership that has evolved in the shadow of 2 other great Chinese teams, namely 2010 Olympic Champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao and 2010 Olympic Silver medallists Qing Pang and Jian Tong. Something tells me that they are on the threshold of greatness of their own. Choreographer Lori Nichol has this to say about their time together: “They are very giving skaters who are capable of so much. They can do “character”, “classical” and everything in between. They have been a pleasure to work with and are always smiling and working. There were even times where translation wasn’t needed we understood each other so well.”

The beauty of this team has been in their dediciation and pursuit of a common goal – the surprise of this team is how much of their sport they have taken to heart.

Part 2 of my interview – with updates about Hao’s injury to follow…

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