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OLYMPICS

Back on the ice, two-time bronze medalists are thinking gold this time

Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, now married, haven't competed in a major international event since winning the world pairs skating title in 2007.

February 14, 2010|By Philip Hersh

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Olympic pairs competition begins with a bang Sunday. Two-time Olympic bronze medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo are the first team on the ice in the short program.

The Chinese, ancient mariners (he is 36, she is 31), have not competed in a major international event since winning the 2007 world title.

"To win an Olympic gold medal is a lifelong dream for both of us," Zhao said.

They retired for two seasons, got married, then returned at the brilliant level that had made them one of the world's most dynamic pairs since they debuted with a fifth place at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

"Hongbo persuaded me," Shen said. "We were already married, so even if I said no, it's not like he is going to divorce me."

The favorites are Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, world champs the last two years. But they haven't been excited with the ice conditions during practices at the Pacific Coliseum.

Savchenko called the ice "weird" and "sticky" and figured that was due to sharing the venue with short-track speedskaters, who want softer ice.

Lysacek drops quad

Evan Lysacek reiterated Saturday that he almost certainly will not try a quadruple jump because of renewed problems with a stress fracture in his left foot that occurred before he won the world title last March.

"The last couple weeks, working on quads again, and before nationals (in mid-January), I started to have problems with my foot again, so I have tried to alleviate stress on my left foot by really limiting what I am doing," he said.

Lysacek attempted -- and fell -- on a quad at nationals. He insisted the attempt had nothing to do with trying to have a better shot at beating reigning Olympic champion Evgeny Plushenko of Russia, who does quads in both the short and long program.

The men's event begins with the short program Tuesday.

Weir and Russia

Since two-time U.S. Olympian Johnny Weir is so passionate about all things Russian, it was natural to ask whether he thinks he or Plushenko is the more Russian skater.

Weir figured actually being Russian gave Plushenko the edge, even if the Russian is more of a jumper and less of an artist than the traditional balletic skater from the Motherland.

"That's what he does well; he jumps well," Weir said. "He brings a lot of theatrics and firepower to the ice, and that is something that is also very Russian. We tend to think of ballet as the Russian art form of choice, but also Russians are very fiery, strong people, and I think Plushenko brings that to the table. I have the balletic side."

A quick 'marriage'

Weir is sharing a two-bedroom, two-bathroom Olympic Village suite with U.S. ice dancer Tanith Belbin, an arrangement that was a "marriage" to avoid inconvenience. Each wanted a single room, so U.S. Figure Skating officials asked both if there would be any problem with having a suite mate of the opposite gender.

"I didn't think it was allowable to stay with a girl," Weir said. "Tanith and I just seemed we would be a perfect match. We're old friends.

"I don't really get along with that many people on the team. I don't know that many people on the team well enough to live with, anyway. Tanith is definitely No. 1 for me."

phersh@tribune.com

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