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Olympic Skaters Overcome Fall, Restart Program and Win Silver

By Yong-yi Zhu

The most amazing display of triumph over adversity happened Monday night in Torino, Italy. When Chinese figure skating pair Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao completed their free skate, they had not only won the hearts of the audience, but also should have won the hearts of everyone who has ever faced any significant challenge.

Allow me to explain.

Monday night in America has always symbolized toughness and grittiness in the form of football. Large men use all their strength to together achieve a common goal. Every Monday night, we watch the games because they define toughness, and the athletes serve as role models.

That’s what I thought of Monday nights up until this time, when Olympic pairs figure skating completely put football in the backseat and rocked my world. True, not many of us pay that much attention to the pairs competition. What could have topped the story of last Olympics’ pairs figure skating, when the French judge intentionally docked points from Canadian team Jamie Sal and David Pelletier? The Skategate scandal ran so deeply that the entire points system for figure skating was altered.

Well, we can look at all three medalist teams to show why this event is truly inspirational.

Take the Russian gold medalists Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin. During Skate America over a year ago, while Maxim was performing a lift, he somehow did not have complete control of Tatiana. He fell, and she crashed face-first into the ice, suffering a concussion.

Although Tatiana recovered, Maxim became extremely hesitant, and his tentativeness definitely showed up both Saturday and Monday during all the lifts. Despite that, the two still performed nearly perfectly, and went on to win the event by more than ten points.

Talk about trust. Tatiana had to trust her partner, who had to trust himself. But that’s only one of the stories of Monday night.

The Chinese bronze medalists Zhao Hongbo and Shen Xue also had to overcome hardships. About six months ago, they were one of the favorite teams for Olympic gold, along with Totmianina and Marinin. But during practice, Zhao ruptured his Achilles heel, and just like that, Olympics dreams immediately turned to dust.

Yet the two continued to train for Torino. They didn’t want to dump everything they had worked for, and although Zhao couldn’t even skate until about three months ago, they won a bronze again. He went from unable to walk to Olympic medal-worthy all in the span of six months.

And that brings us to the silver medalists from the pairs event, Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao. They didn’t have any major mishaps coming into Monday night, but boy did they bring the drama. At the opening of their program, Zhang and Zhang attempted a throw quadruple Salchow, something never accomplished in Olympic history.

The height on the jump looked good, until Zhang Dan came down, missed the landing and banged her knee hard on the ice. She crashed into the wall and the entire program just stopped. I held my breath, and I’m sure many of the audience members did the same as they wondered what would happen.

Surely, their medal prospects were over. However, even in tears, Zhang Dan told her coach and her partner that she would continue. After the program restarted, the pair continued from the crash landing and performed a double-triple jump combination, combining amazing twists in the air and beautiful lifts. You could tell that Zhang Dan was in pain at the end of the program, because she came out of some of her elements a little early, but her heart and her courage were still there. Now they have an Olympic silver medal to show.

I have never witnessed something nearly as dramatic as this. To watch her fall that hard and rise again all in the span of about ten minutes was amazing. And to pairs figure skating, I say congratulations for providing us with such heroes and for rebounding from something so terrible as Skategate to captivate us all once again.