Figure skaters flop sounds the alarm

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Silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China, gold medalists Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov from Russia and bronze medalists Aleksandra Boikova and Dimitrii Kozlovski from Russia with their medals after the free skating pairs final at the Championships figure skating World Cup in Stockholm, Sweden, March 25, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Despite the comeback of their aces in the pairs event, the Chinese team’s meager selections in other disciplines at the World Figure Skating Championships sounded the alarm at home before Beijing 2022.

With China being a traditional powerhouse in the sport, a lone silver medal and just five Olympic qualifying spots at last week’s world championships in Stockholm are well below expectations, raising fears the gold medals won’t prove elusive at the Home Winter Olympics next year.

Just two months after their reunion, two-time world champions Han Cong and Sui Wenjing impressed in their first official outing since Han was sidelined after hip surgery last April, winning the only medal. of China in the Swedish capital and his fifth at the world championships.

Even with minor flaws in Sui’s jumps, the Chinese duo, who won the world title in 2017 and 2019, seemed to be getting closer to their best. Their trademark triple-flip throws and some tough lifts helped them score 148.09 points in the free skate for a total of 225.71 to finish within two points of winners Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov. Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii took third place.

After battling a staggering number of injuries, including Sui’s repeated ankle problems, since 2012, the Chinese pair have drawn enough encouragement from last week’s routines to believe they can turn the money they’ve won at the Gold South Korea 2018 Winter Games in Beijing. .

“It’s a good start for us,” Han told the Olympic Channel after Thursday’s free skate. “Our plan this year was to recover. We wanted to stay healthy … so that we could compete in the Winter Olympics.”

“We have done what we can do now,” added Sui. “We only practiced on the ice for two months after recovering (from Han’s surgery).”

“We’re happy to be able to compete at a fairly good level. However, we’re not at our best yet, only 70-80% of our best ourselves, but we think we’ve made huge strides in just two months. . “

Some disappointing executions by compatriots Han and Sui in the face of fierce competition from Russia and Japan, however, gave China a wake-up call ahead of the Beijing Games.

Arriving in Sweden after winning the China Cup title in November, men’s singles skater Jin Boyang, two-time world bronze medalist (2016-17), failed in his quest to win a third medal. A series of failed landings in both the short program and the free skate saw Jin finish in a modest 22nd place.

Attempting a routine considered to be of a world-class level of difficulty, the 23-year-old failed to achieve any of his quadruple jumps correctly in the free skate, scoring 91.74 points less than his total Cup wins. from China to Chongqing, a stage of the ISU Grand Prix series.

Jin’s poor performance at the world championships, coupled with veteran Yan Han’s 13th place finish, means China can now only send one of these skaters to the home Olympics.

Teenager Chen Hongyi, China’s sole representative in the women’s event, finished 21st, while the duo of Wang Shiyue and Liu Xinyu took 13th place in ice dance, each earning a qualifying spot in their disciplines. respective for the Olympics next year.

Along with Han and Sui, Peng Cheng and Jin Yang also secured an Olympic place as a couple, thanks to a fourth place. China is now aiming to secure a third pair entry in the next qualifying event, the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany at the end of September.

According to the rules of the International Skating Union, each country or region can qualify a maximum of three skaters, or pairs, in an Olympic event, provided they are sufficiently classified.

Despite the daunting challenges ahead, Lori Nichol, a Canadian choreographer who has worked with Team China for over a decade, remains optimistic about the host’s Olympic prospects.

Based in Toronto, Nichol has overseen Han and Sui’s progress during the pandemic via online Zoom calls.

“The Olympics are always a huge pressure on everyone; everyone would like to do their best,” Nichol, a member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, told NBC Sports last week.

Reflecting on Han and Sui’s chances, she commented, “You know you want it, so let’s focus minute by minute, day by day, week by week, and we’ll be there.”

Nichol is planning some magical moves for Sui and Han’s gold medal bid, but how and where their creative partnership will continue amid the pandemic is unclear.

“I try not to think about it,” she said. “I’m just focusing on the music and our approach. And whether it’s me or them that comes here, or Zoom, it’s entirely possible to do a good job.”


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