China's renowned figure skating pair of Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao are gliding off in different directions.
Zhang Dan, the Turin Winter Olympic pairs silver medalist, announced her retirement from the ice on Sunday night, while her partner, Hao, has already started training with Peng Cheng in a bid for more glory at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
"We respect Zhang Dan's decision, so we approved her retirement application," said Yao Bin, head coach of China's figure skating team.
"Since Zhang Hao still wants to continue, we have found a new partner for him. The new duo has been training for more than 10 days. Although their teamwork is starting from scratch, they are making progress each day."
The Zhangs were a team for 14 years and stunned the skating world in 2006 when they recovered from a nasty fall at the Turin Winter Olympic Games to claim silver.
During the pairs free skating competition in Turin, Dan crashed into the side barrier and was left sprawled on the ice after falling during a quadruple throw, which would have made history had they landed it successfully. The pair had to interrupt its performance before Dan recovered and was able to continue. Skating to the music of The Offspring of Drag, the pair earned a standing ovation from more than 6,000 fans at the Palavela rink. Their courageous action inspired the figure skating world and they became national heroes after the competition.
After the Turin Games, the pair battled injuries and settled for silver medals at the 2008 and 2009 World Championships.
However, Dan's continued growth became a major problem for the veteran pair in recent years. At about 1.69m, she was among the tallest female skaters in pairs and it became more and more difficult for Hao to handle her. He injured a hand during a training session in 2010, which led to the pair missing the whole of the 2010-2011 season.
"If I'm too tall, it might be difficult for my partner to do the twists, lifts and throws," Dan said. "I will face more resistance in the air, so the pose won't look as good as others. It's a big obstacle to our teamwork.
"If Hao and I can't make further progress, we can't achieve more at the 2014 Winter Games. A new partner may give Hao more chance in Sochi.
"I don't have too many regrets about retiring. After all, I have gained an Olympic silver medal. I teamed up with Hao for nearly 15 years and we worked hard and gave our all in training and competitions. Although we didn't grab the opportunity to earn a gold at the worlds or Olympics, we have no regrets as we tried our best."
Dan is now planning to study at the Beijing Sport University.
"No matter what I do in the future, studying will be good for me," Dan said. "I have no plans after studying. I don't like to be bound to something, so I probably can't be a coach. But I won't ever be too far away (from skating)."
Meanwhile, Hao gave her his blessings.
"Thank you for your help, tolerance and understanding to me during out 14 years together," Hao said on his weibo account on Monday.
"All the details of our training and studying together remain fresh memories for me. We were happy when we succeeded and we encouraged each other when we lost. I will remember all your efforts. I wish you a bright future in study and daily life. I believe your perseverance will lead you to a successful future."
Hao's main priority now is to get used to his new partner and re-enter competitions. Peng, who is 16 and started pairs skating only a year ago, finished sixth with Zhang Tianci at the National Winter Games.
"We selected Peng for Hao due to her stature and abilities. Through days of training, Hao is satisfied with her," coach Yao said. "But Hao still has to control his power with his partner, so they have to get used to each other gradually."
According to Yao, the new pair is now training for the 2012-2013 season, which will start with the Grand Prix series in October. Zhang and Peng will try to qualify for the World Championships next year and then the 2014 Games.