Ice Network

Rising stars of Asia: Yu, Jin take aim at Olympics

Chinese duo hopes to continue country's rich tradition in pairs skating
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China's Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin showed they belonged on the senior level last season, winning medals at Cup of China and NHK Trophy. -Getty Images

This offseason, icenetwork is profiling some of the up-and-coming skaters from the Asian continent. Next up, two-time world junior champions Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin.

China is known for its rich history of pairs skating. Ever since Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao claimed the silver medal at the 1999 World Championships, teams from China have made 14 out of 17 world podiums. After establishing themselves as the best junior team in the world -- and with their sights set on one day becoming Olympic champions -- Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin hope to carry on their country's proud tradition.

Although Yu and Jin competed in the Grand Prix Series during the 2011-12 season, the young duo continued to only compete at junior competitions the rest of that season, as well as the next two.

It wasn't until last season that the pair received two Grand Prix assignments, at Cup of China and NHK Trophy. They did well in both events, claiming a silver medal in Shanghai and a bronze in Osaka, and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, where they finished a respectable fifth.

Although Yu and Jin did not compete at the Four Continents or world championships, they distinguished themselves elsewhere, winning the Winter Universiade in February and then successfully defending their world junior title.

Jin was born in 1994 in Harbin, a city in northeast China where skating is a popular sport.

"When I was 5, I was watching figure skating competitions on TV with my father," Jin recalled. "I was so impressed with the performance of Shen and Zhao that [they made me] want to skate as well. But soon I realized you need to grow your body and strength before you can do pair elements. So, I initially started as a single skater, then changed to pairs when I turned 12."

Yu was born in 1996 in Beijing. The Chinese capital is known as a place where parents pay a lot of attention to their children's education and self-development, in all areas of life.

"I think I was 5 or 6 years old when I saw an ice rink in a mall, when I was shopping with my mom. I became curious and started to skate there," Yu said. "My mom wanted me to do a sport that could grow my elegance, and she considered that it would give me extra points in school entrance exams if I could skate well."

It was also her mother's idea for her to switch to pairs skating.

"She said doing pair skating is more promising than singles," Yu recalled.

In 2009, after Jin had several tryouts that didn't work out, his coach introduced him to Yu at a training camp in Beijing.

"It was all the coach's decision, which I must follow, but I had nothing to complain about because Xiaoyu was superb," Jin said. "She was already able to do two types of triple jumps at that time."

After they teamed up, Yu had to move to Harbin with her mother in order to train under Bo Luan, who is in charge of all Chinese junior pairs teams. In this strict and competitive training environment, Yu and Jin learned and improved quickly.

Only one season after the duo teamed up, they won their first Junior Grand Prix (JGP) gold medal. They followed it up by taking a bronze medal at another JGP event, and then finished third at the JGP Final. The following season (2011-12), they won a gold medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games and claimed a silver medal at junior worlds. That was also the year that the team started to do throw quads and quadruple twists in practice.

The next season, Yu was impacted by puberty, and the duo struggled with its consistency, placing fifth at the JGP Final and fourth at junior worlds.

The young pair was not concerned, however.

"China has its good tradition in pairs skating, and has developed a systematic way to train skaters at different ages," Jin said. "The coaches know when to let skaters do what in order to be in the same pace with our growth. I, myself, also paid attention to Yu's changes and was more careful." 

"He really protects me well," Yu added.

In the summer of 2013, the couple made a coaching change and moved to Beijing. Both were thrilled to become students of their childhood idols, Shen and Zhao. This arrangement turned out to be a fruitful one, as Yu and Jin went undefeated at all junior-level competitions in 2013-14.

Despite the step up in competition last season, Yu and Jin brought home two Grand Prix medals and qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

"We've been on the podium at the junior level many times, but the competitors at the senior level are totally different," Jin said. "We have really learned a lot through the competitions. Besides, the attention you get from the media and the audience is completely different, which we also need to pay attention to."

"For us, it is the time to gain experience," Yu said. "We want to keep improving ourselves by competing with higher-level skaters at big events."

With regard to big events, the pair missed the opportunity to compete at home at the 2015 World Championships in Shanghai, although they did get to perform in the opening ceremony.

"Although we had some regrets that we were not able to compete at the worlds held at home, we can take that, because our ultimate goal is the Olympics," Yu said.

"Every athlete dreams to be the Olympic champion," Jin said. "I think it is very natural that we take aim at this Olympic gold medal."

At the same time, he is also well aware of the difficulty.

"There is a long road ahead of us. What we need to do is pull out all our effort, to bring out the best in us and to keep improving," Jin said. "Only when we have done what we need to do can we know if this goal is achievable or not."