Chinese figure skating pair improves speed

Olympic skater Zhao Hongbo is racing the clock, and he's not even a speedskater. The Chinese figure skater and partner Shen Xue were considered Olympic favorites before Zhao tore his Achilles' tendon last August while attempting a triple jump. An injury such as that can sideline an athlete for a year.

Zhao, however, has been slowly rehabilitating his foot and hopes to be on the ice in Turin. A year ago, after winning the 2004-05 Grand Prix final in Beijing, the two-time world pairs' champions looked to be the team to beat at the Winter Games.

Instead, Zhao started jumping only about a month ago after hours of therapy. He did a triple toe loop for the first time since last season about a week ago. The pair's coach, Yao Bin, remembers it well. "It was on Jan. 28, the Chinese New Year, the first time he landed," Yao said. "Since then he has landed about 20. Every day he just tries one or two."

The rush to get better wasn't helped by the figure skating schedule. The pairs' event is first, starting with the short program on Saturday. The final is Monday. Zhao still shows a bit of hesitancy and sometimes frustration when trying the jumps that once came so easily.

"Today he did one the second time he jumped," Yao said. "Every day in practice it is a little bit better." Best known for their technical skills, other parts of the pair's programs feature high and far throw moves and twists.

At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where the pair took bronze in the event that was marred by a judging scandal, Shen nearly landed a quadruple throw salchow. No other pair has even attempted the risky move in which Shen is thrown in the air and does four revolutions before landing on one foot.

Even Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, the Russians who have taken over as favorites for the gold medal, have not done a quad throw in competition. The Russians, however, have had their own medical problems. Totmianina had a horrifying fall from a lift in October 2004 at Skate America in Pittsburgh. She was knocked unconscious and spent two days in a hospital.

In December, she was again hospitalized with a stomach ailment, but the pair still won the European title for the fifth time last month. Zhao, meanwhile, just wants to fulfill his first goal after the injury skating in these games, reports the AP.

N.U.