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China's daring duo return to ice for gold
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Shen Xue (L) and Zhao Hongbo are training in the Capital Gymnasium June 1, 2009. [Xinhua]

Whether exiled prince and princess in Turando, fairytale figures in the Nutcracker or lovebirds in Meditation, the classic performances of China's figure skating pair Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo will always remain in the memory of their fans.

Following the return of the veteran pair to training for their fourth Winter Olympic Games, they are eagerly anticipating more illustrious performances from the husband and wife duo.

"I didn't expect that I will have the opportunity to enjoy your performances again," a netizen wrote on the pair's blog. "Win or lose, you are the best."

"I think it's hard to make the decision to comeback. I'm expecting your perfect return. Wishing you a great success," another netizen wrote.

The three-time world champions, who stood down from the national team after winning the 2007 World Championships, have been back for almost a month, working as assistants to headcoach Yao Bin and also training for the Vancouver Olympics next year.

Much to the excitement of the media and Chinese fans, they have registered for the ISU Grand Prix stops in Beijing and the US in October.

All they want is an Olympic gold that still eludes their glorious career.

"We are aiming for the gold medal this time," the 35-year-old Zhao was quoted as saying by sports.cn. "To achieve this, we have done a lot of preparation, such as inviting the best choreographer and the best costume designers in the world. Before leaving the national team, we got all the titles of that season. So, if we could reach the form at that time, we are confident we can realize our Olympic gold medal dream."

Shen Xue (L) and Zhao Hongbo are training in the Capital Gymnasium June 1, 2009. [Xinhua]

With three world titles, two Olympic bronze medals and a number of golds from Grand Prix and other international competitions, Shen/Zhao, who married in May last year, are China's most successful skating pair.

After teaming up in 1992, they won the national championships four months later, and in 1996 made their world championship debut.

Despite only finishing 15th, their ambitious moves and distinctive style distinguished them as a pair to watch.

They finished fifth in 1998, and runners-up in 1999.

Heading into the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Shen and Zhao were firmly in medal contention, but a failed attempt at the quadruple throw salchow, the most difficult movement in the sport, sent them tumbling from gold to bronze.

The pair recovered from that disappointment at the World Championships to claim gold later that year, something they repeated the following one.

It seemed that their time had finally come as one of the most dominant pairs in the sport. Until injury struck.

The duo were forced to withdraw from the 2005 World Championships when Zhao injured his achilles tendon. He then ruptured it while practising a triple toeloop in August that year and was off the ice for months.

Following a miraculous recovery, the pair stood on the podium with a bronze medal at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics only half a year later.

"We have participated in three Olympic Games, but always missed the gold medal. We can't reconcile such results, so we haven't given up and have decided to return," Zhao added.

(China Daily June 4, 2009)

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