Wenjing Sui/Cong Han (CHN): The comeback kids

www.isu.org|09-Apr-2019 16:33

Chinese Pair Skating stars Wenjing Sui/Cong Han had a short season, but they proved once more that they are the Pair to beat right now by taking gold at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the ISU World Figure Skating Championships. The charismatic duo has experience with comebacks and they did it one more time this season.

Wenjing had problems with her foot already at the Olympic Winter Games 2018, where the Chinese team was edged out of the gold medal only narrowly by Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot of Germany. She later was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right foot and her recovery took long. As a result, the 2017 World Champions not only were unable to compete at the 2018 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, but also had to sit out the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series last fall.

Sui returned on to the ice in July 2018, but she had to start slowly and it took weeks before she was able to practice jumps and throws. They mounted their new programs to “No One Like You” by Red Electrick for the Short Program and “Rain, In Your Black Eyes” by Ezio Bosso for the Free Skating with long-time choreographer Lori Nichol. Actually, Wenjing was not such a big fan of the long program music. “In Canada (when working with choreographer Nichol), we had two choices. She liked the other one, but I liked this one,” Cong explained. “Lori (Nichol) tried to let us show more different emotions and positions on the ice. She thought I was right (to choose this music) and she (Sui) said it's up to you,” he continued. His partner especially likes the Short Program. “’No One Like You’ is something that shows our characters. It is very much like us,” she said.

The skaters prepared their comeback for the second half of the season, but at the Chinese National Championships, they only skated the Short Program with reduced difficulty. The first big test was the Four Continents in Anaheim in February. In the Short Program, Sui took a painful fall on the triple toe and the team stood in second place heading into the Free Skating. “This is our first competition, so I think we were a little too excited,” Sui said. “I think we didn’t adjust our condition too well because in our practice we were normally able to skate clean in the short program. The mistake today was pretty unexpected.”

Sui landed the toeloop in the Free Skating and the only mistake came when she missed the side by side triple Salchow. Nevertheless, the Chinese team moved up one spot to overtake Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro of Canada and claimed the fifth ISU Four Continents title of their career. It was an emotional moment, especially for Sui. She broke into tears on the podium. “I cried immediately. I really wish I can keep skating because we all love skating. We have a very strong team and they help us. We are courageous. We come back and we keep trying our best,” she shared.

The Olympic silver medalists had only done three complete run-throughs of their long program before the ISU Four Continents, but then had a little more time to practice before the ISU World Figure Skating Championships and it showed. Sui/Han were a close second to Russians Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov in the Short Program and then put out an emotional and technically flawless performance in the Free Skating to earn their second World title. “We are very happy to have shown our best performance and to win this Championship. I remember, in 2015 in Shanghai that we won a world medal for the very first time and I felt very happy about it then,” Wenjing said. “We had a tough time (this season), we could not prepare so well and did not have much time to practice. However, our coaches and our team gave us a lot of support and we knew we can make it and get the title. They (coaches) told us that if you both are satisfied with your performance, that is all you need and that really encouraged us to perform well. Of course we did feel the pressure. Winning the second time (after 2017) was harder and it was a team effort,” she added.

It was the third major comeback for Sui/Han after they missed most of the 2012/13 season as she recovered from epiphysitis and then missed the first half of the 2016/17 season as she underwent surgery on both feet in spring 2016. “The comeback is different every time. I actually forgot about the first time we missed the Grand Prix and came to Four Continents (in 2013). The second time (in 2017) was after my surgery, and it was a pretty tough time. I was not sure if I could still skate or come back to competition,” Sui noted. “I was only thinking about what I should do each day, but didn’t actually get to experience the atmosphere at the rink. This time I think we actually had a time to recover and relax, because of the injury after Olympics. We are very excited and happy to come back to the competition, and we feel like we really belong to the rink. We also received lots of support from Chinese Figure Skating, the medical team and lots of people behind us.”

“The journey was really long,” her partner agreed. “I’m really thankful to the help and support from Chinese Figure Skating after the Olympics. They helped us not only mentally but also in our daily life, and we really feel the tremendous support from them. In order to be able to compete today on the ice, we went through lots of bittersweet moments. We had to recover from injury, learn the techniques from the very beginning, until she became able to do the throw jumps again.”

In spite of all these difficulties, Wenjing loves skating and competing so much that she had no doubts about coming back one more time. Now after having ended their season on a high note, the two-time World Champions will take some time to decide their plans for the future. “We haven’t decided if we are keeping our programs for next season,” Sui said. Their major goal obviously are the Olympic Winter Games 2022 in Beijing, China, on home ice. The skaters originally come from Harbin in northern China, but have lived and trained in the Chinese capital for many years now. Once inspired by 2010 Olympic Pairs Champions Xue Shen/Hongbo Zhao, they are now coached by Zhao and dream of following into his footsteps at the 2022 Olympic Games.