Ice Network

With Peng at side, Zhang takes aim at fifth Olympics

Elder statesman of pairs skating to compete in 13th world championships
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China's Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang hope to shore up every element in their programs, with the goal of mirroring their consistency in practice. -Getty Images

Hao Zhang has made a name for himself over his career, which has spanned 15 years at the senior international level. He and former partner Dan Zhang won bronze at the Four Continents Championships back in 2002! Altogether, they amassed one Olympic medal (silver in 2006), four world medals (three silver, one bronze) and eight Four Continents medals (two gold, two silver, three bronze).

After Dan retired from competition in 2012, Hao teamed up with Cheng Peng, with whom he competed in his fourth Olympic Winter Games (in 2014 ) and placed fourth at the 2015 World Championships in Shanghai.

The Chinese duo took the time to speak with icenetwork at the 2015 Grand Prix Final in December about their plans, via an interpreter.

Icenetwork: Hao, your longevity on the senior circuit is just amazing. How have you managed to stay healthy for so long?

Zhang: It's not easy!

When we're doing a quad twist, for instance, it has to be very high, so it's easy to get injured, even though you try to avoid it.

It's the same thing when you try a quad throw -- it's easier to fall or get injured. But it also makes competition more exciting. For each one of the top pairs, it's easy to make a normal program with just triples, but it won't be as exciting as it is with a quad.

I did my first quad salchow back in 2005, more than 10 years ago. This is the trend for pairs skating. It's very similar to male singles skating. Two or three quads will be necessary in any program.

The Russians (Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov) landed a triple toe-triple toe-double toe for the first time in a competition (at the 2015 Grand Prix Final in Barcelona). In our time, Dan Zhang and I landed a double axel-triple toe and we were also kind of the first ones to land it back then. Each pair tries to do harder elements and make audiences more excited.

All top pairs try to have a quad in order to get higher technical scores, but at the same time, they take the risk of getting injured.

Icenetwork: You are trying two quads, right?

Zhang: Oh yes! We train to land a quad twist and a throw quad salchow. We want to keep challenging ourselves and preparing for future competitions. Our aim is to show in competition what we train in practice.

Icenetwork: You have competed so many times at worlds!

Zhang: I have already participated in 15 world championships, including junior worlds. I have taken part in four Olympics so far. I've been competing for a very long time already. But I love skating so much, and I love competing, too, so I want to dedicate myself to this career. In order to do so, I need to stay healthy. I've had four bad injuries, but I never had any operations. I would like to make history by participating in a fifth and -- why not? -- a sixth Olympics.

My body's condition keeps changing every year; it's very hard (to stay in shape). That's the cost of harder and higher elements, which programs now require. I can rely on my energy and spiritual support for my skating. I will keep skating, although it's difficult.

Icenetwork: Cheng, what have you learned from skating with Hao?

Peng: I learn from him in every aspect of skating -- the technical part, of course, but also the way to live, the experience of skating and of doing so at a high level. We spend six days a week training together. That time we spend together helps me learn a lot.

Icenetwork: Hao, was it difficult to start all over with a new partner? How do you see it now, almost four years later?

Zhang: We teamed up in April 2012. On that very first day, it was her birthday! So, it has since become an anniversary day. At first, I didn't know much about Cheng. She was training in Harbin, and we had hardly met before. I had just seen her via video.

There were a lot of difficulties at first. I was already a top skater, and she was not working in Beijing. It was difficult to get in sync at first. We spent a lot of time training to improve. We talked a lot about developing our teamwork and our technical elements.

After we got paired, we had only five months to train before we first competed at nationals. We then went on to compete in the Grand Prix. It has never stopped since then. We have had many competitions since, and a lot of training, too. This is quite amazing, actually: We were paired fours years ago, but we've already competed in three world championships, one Olympics and all the Grand Prix Series, plus two Grand Prix finals!

After we got together, we finished fifth at worlds, and now we are fourth.

Icenetwork: The age difference between the two of you may result in having different interests in your personal lives. How do you cope with these differences?

Peng (she laughs, then the interpreter laughs, and finally Zhang joins them laughing -- all in Chinese): Of course, we have lots of different interests in life! But on our Chinese national team, a lot of skaters are the same age as I am, so we can share many things together. I have lots of Internet friends. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are also young, so they can play with me on the Internet. Hao didn't know anything about the Internet, nor did he understand anything about it, while [Sui and Han] were always talking about it. So he inquired, and they taught him. That was very funny!

Icenetwork: What about you, Hao?

Zhang: I like collecting Chinese art works and jade objects.

Icenetwork: Is that not something that interests you, Cheng?

Peng (laughing): No!

Icenetwork: How do you see your future playing out?

Zhang: At first, we want to work on stabilizing our elements. We don't want to miss one element in our programs in the future. We do complete them in practice, so we want to show all of them in actual competition. Peng's jumps can be brilliant in practice, but we struggle in competition. We will work hard for this, in order to show our real competence.

Our goal is not to show our elements at one or two competitions during a given year but to show them consistently at each event. Landing your elements once or twice is luck; we need to show consistency. This way, judges will have a better image of us.

Icenetwork: Will you take aim at yet another Olympics?

Zhang: Definitely ... You know, there are not that many competitions in one season. So we want to make sure that on every occasion, we show our best. There are only two years to go before the next Olympics. This is already the start of my fifth Olympic (cycle). I have to say that I am already ready for it!