Dan Zhang, Lori Nichol, and Hao Zhang

Dan Zhang, Lori Nichol, and Hao Zhang

WOW. It’s the only word I can use to describe what I see on the ice. Alone in the stands watching 2006 Olympic silver pair medallists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang working with legendary choreographer Lori Nichol, I am totally engaged. Running through their short program to last year’s music, Transylvanian Lullaby, Lori yells up to ask if I can tell what the program is about. Without hesitation I say: “He is devouring her.” I yell down “Feichang bang!” (Very good!!), one of the few Mandarin phrases I can get without screwing up the pronounciation too badly…however it still evokes giggles from the three on the ice who understand it. Dan Zhang tells me later that their season goal is to arrive at their first Grand Prix competition “and show everybody our ‘new face’.” What I saw in the short program has an edgy and confident adult heat that was unexpected and, for me, a welcome change from so many pairs’ gooey romanticism. I am a fan. I was told that the free program is equally dynamic. How long til GP Season ?

It has been a rough 10 months for the pair who were basically sidelined due to injury last fall. Through Mr Huang, Hao tells me that during the course of a lift they fell and he basically smashed everything contained in his right hand’s middle finger. Within 15 minutes Hao was at the doctor and very quickly into surgery. Although they tried to get back into shape more quickly, the doctors advised Hao that it would be 18 months for the injury to heal. To start with, Hao was on the ice for only brief periods post surgery just to keep his feet under him while partner Dan persisted with working on the singles elements from their program. Realizing that they really wouldn’t make it into top form, by the middle of the season they decided to sit out the rest.

“We decided to give up. We watched the other skaters and the competitions. We had confidence that we would get better. We have calmed down because we rested the whole season. We just love figure skating and are confident that we will win good results. We want to create new results.”

Back on the ice in earnest since mid-March it was another month before they attempted any lifts. Hao says his finger is still only at about 70% but continues to improve and he is optimistic that it will eventually be back to 100%. He showed me the effort that it takes to completely close his right hand into a fist. I wonder how he is managing especially with the lifts:

“I find the lasso lift very difficult. When I am on the ice it doesn’t matter what I am doing, I have to pay attention and take care that I protect my finger.”

For the moment he is experiencing a minor injury to his right shoulder and neck likely due to compensating for his injured finger. He says it’s nothing to worry about and is “very small”. For her part, Dan is the picture of health.

In Beijing they are sometimes on the ice alone and at other times are on the ice with a couple of other teams. You can hear the importance they place on being role models for younger skaters.

On the phone, Lori had already told me what the skaters were doing was “pretty special” and that these two were capable of a huge range of expression. Dan says enthusiastically:

“We are excited for our new style. It is for us, the fans and the judges and could not have happened without Lori’s great choreography.”

If this is how they look with, in their words, “a long time with no practice”, I am excited to think about what the pairs competition will look like in the coming season. With new faces like Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov and “new faces” like Zhang and Zhang – it’s going to be a great season!

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