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Champions Freeze Retirement to Cut out a New Figure
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Chinese figure-skating pairs stars Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo have vowed to compete beyond the 2006/07 season dismissing rumors they would turn professional.

After the Turin Winter Olympic Games early this year, when Shen/Zhao settled for bronze medal despite of Zhao's severe ankle injury, the veteran pair were tipped to retire from the international competitions and join the professional ranks.

However Shen/Zhao say they want to dazzle audiences this season with new routines in both the short program and free skating.

"We want to show something new to the spectators and this season we will try some music in different style," said Zhao. "We will try some slow rhythmic music this time that is different from our previous powerful music, such as Turando, Song's Dynasty and Mulan."

They will skate to Massenet's "Meditation" this season, while their short program will use romantic Spanish music of "Romanza".

"We will tell a story of our own experience in the free skating," Zhao said. "Skating to 'Meditation' will show the audience how we met, teamed up and experienced happy and difficulties together. We told the choreographer our stories and the choreographer put all those details into the routine."

"In the early years, we want to use the music to serve as a foil to our performance, but this time we want to use our performance to set off the music," Shen added.

In less than three weeks, Shen/Zhao will make their new programs debut at the Grand Prix China stop at Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Zhao admitted they still had to practice more and master the new program better.

"As we are getting older, stamina is our biggest problem at present," said 33-year-old Zhao. "We will try to do our best in each stop and as to the retirement, we will at least finish this season."

The other two pairs Pang Qing/Tong Jian and Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao have also announced new routines for their short programs this season.

Pang/Tong will use a modern ballet routine this season to Italian music, while the two Zhangs will skate to a rhythmic Spanish track.

Pang/Tong, the newly crowned world champions, have to withdraw from their opening competition this season, the Grand Prix America stop, which will be held this weekend, because of Pang's serious pyelitis.

"We like our new short program routine very much and it is different from our previous ones," said Tong.

"We have learned a lot from our Russian choreographer while doing the choreography last month in the US. We came to know that figure skating is not just standing on the ice and skating, but to show higher artistic conception."

Although the pair is eager to show their new routine to the audience, they still have to conquer the illness first.

"At present, the most important thing is Pang's recovery," said Tong, who has had to train alone for almost a month. "If we could go back to the competitions soon, we will try our best."

With Pang/Tong withdrawing from the US stop, the Winter Olympic silver medallists, the two Zhangs will be the first pair to compete in the international competition this season.

"We have never tried the Spanish music before and we like our new short program very much," said Zhang Hao, who will go to the Grand Prix Canada stop next weekend. "As athletes, our goal is to win."

Young pairs watched

Besides the three-star pairs, Yao Bin, the head coach of the Chinese figure skating team, is seeking for the back-up force for the team right now, although it seemed to be a tough task.

"In addition to the five young pairs in the national team last year, we have three more pairs in the team this season," said Yao.

"Besides Li Jiaqi/Xu Jiankun, who will compete in the Grand Prix this season, the other pairs are not even capable enough to compete in the international event. It's hard to say when the successors will come out."

(China Daily October 25, 2006)

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