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Rinkside in Los Angeles, part deux

Pang and Tong work on leg strength; Chan visits the spin doctor

Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison are managing the pressures of the Olympic Games in their home country.
Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison are managing the pressures of the Olympic Games in their home country. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/24/2009) - It's been a season of rebirth for China's Qing Pang and Jian Tong.

Many wrote off the 2006 world pair champions when they dropped to fifth place last season. But heightened off-ice training, with emphasis on increasing jumping strength, helped them defeat world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy at the Grand Prix Final in December. They also captured their fourth Four Continents title, defeating world bronze medalists Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison.

"Last year for us was troubled," Tong said in his improving English. "This is the first season we have been doing off-ice workouts, working on our solo jumps. So, no more downgrades."

The slender Pang, in particular, has had technical panels rule her double Axel and triple toe loops more than a quarter-turn short of completion. Extra training has strengthened her legs and enabled her to complete her jumps.

"It is a lot of work with a physical training coach and also, of course, [primary coach] Mr. Bin Yao," she said through an interpreter.

The couple's Tango free skate, choreographed by Sarah Kawahara, is gaining high praise.

"We like this style," Tong said. "It's the second time we have worked with Sarah Kawahara. We just do a lot of hard training, no short cuts. This style is different for us, but it feels good."

The Tango comes a bit easier to Tong, who spent several years as an ice dancer before switching to pairs full time.

"[Dance experience] is very helpful to me. It helps me connect with my partner," he said.

The couple did not attend the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. They moved their training out of the city for one month due to security concerns. But the pageantry of the Games has inspired them, and they are committed to competing through 2010 and perhaps beyond.

"We very [much] like sports; we like figure skating," Tong said. "We need an Olympic medal. Any color medal."

Canadian pair champions Dubé and Davison are making swift progress with their newest big element, the triple twist.

"At our first event, Skate Canada, we did it, and we had a -1 GOE [grade of execution]. The catch wasn't very good," Davison said.

"It quickly improved. The next time we did it [at NHK Trophy], we had a good, solid catch on the hip. Then at our [most recent] competition, 2009 Four Continents Championships, we had a positive GOE in both the short and long programs."

David Pelletier, the 2002 Olympic pair champion (with now-wife Jamie Salé), has taken an active role helping them develop the difficult maneuver.

"He can show us different technique. He has a fresh eye," Davison explained. "He's not there every day, so he can see if anything changes. With the twist, it's easy to get into bad habits, and he keeps us honest with our technique."

Sometimes, Pelletier takes his jacket off and demonstrates the move himself.

"We do it in practice, as a single or double, and he can feel if I'm being too quick with my shoulders or hips," Dubé said.

The most valuable advice Pelletier ever gave goes beyond just one element.

"He tells us not to be too hard on ourselves," Dubé said.

"He helps us keep things light. He's been through it all, and he knows how to block things out when you need to. He says just do it and stay confident," Davison added.

Oda bids for quad squad

Nobunari Oda slipped up on a quadruple toe at Four Continents, but the Japanese champion plans to try the jump again here.

"I think I have had my best practices of this season," he said. "I have confidence to compete. I am just relaxing more and concentrating on my performances."

Oda, who wound up fourth at Four Continents -- one place behind teammate Takahiko Kozuka -- said the quad, which he has yet to land cleanly in international competition, is going well.

"It's getting much better," he said. "It will be in my long program."

The skater teamed up with coach and choreographer Nikolai Morozov in the spring of 2008 and won his first four competitions of the season, including NHK Trophy and the Japanese championships. Although he spent much of the winter training under his mother, Norika Oda, at Kansai University, he plans to return to Morozov's rink in Hackensack, N.J., after worlds to prepare for his possible participation in the ISU Team Trophy in Tokyo in April.

Patrick Chan may not have a quad to worry about, but the triple Axel has been giving the Canadian champion plenty of trouble in practice.

"All the training I do, my timing isn't always right [on the Axel]," the 18-year-old said. "That's why we practice, to get used to rink conditions. My timing is a bit off. We're working on it."

Chan has proved himself a worthy successor to 2008 world champion Jeffrey Buttle as Canada's top dog. Winning the Four Continents in February, he amassed a personal-best 249.19 points. In a press conference here, he started a war of words with Brian Joubert, saying the former world champion places too much emphasis on quads.

Still, Chan hopes to keep his second senior worlds (he placed ninth last season) a low-pressure affair.

"I think I'm coming at this the same way I came at Four Continents," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun. I'm trying not to make this a big deal. I'm just here to do my stuff, like coming to work.

"Of course [the Four Continents] result helps a little; I feel good, more in control."

Leading up to Los Angeles, Chan and coach Don Laws, who led Scott Hamilton to Olympic gold in 1984, traveled to Delaware to work with renowned "spin doctor" Bobbe Shire, seeking to reduce the centrifugal force needed to add speed.

"Bobbe is amazing; she's such a smart person," Chan said. "She really knows the science of spins.

"We looked at videos and studied my [spin] GOE's. They've been kind of low. [Working with Shire] was kind of a last-minute deal, so if there are [low] GOE's here, it's no big deal. We've already played around with a new spin for next season."