Pang and Tong soldier on despite age, aches

Veteran Chinese pair aims for fourth Olympics, on '80-year-old' knees

The years spent pairs skating have taken their toll on the health of Qing Pang and Jian Tong.
The years spent pairs skating have taken their toll on the health of Qing Pang and Jian Tong. (Lynn Rutherford)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(10/19/2012) - At the ages of 32 and 33, Qing Pang and Jian Tong have competed at more world championships than any active figure skater.

How many? When they made their worlds debut in Helsinki in 1999, Bill Clinton was president. Top names in the sport included Michelle Kwan, Elvis Stojko, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, and Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov, all of whom have long since embarked on second -- or even third -- careers. Their coach, Yao Bin, paired them up in 1993, the same year U.S. pairs champion Caydee Denney was born.

So it wasn't too surprising that when Tong strolled into the mixed zone after practice at the ShoWare Center on Thursday, he clutched two ice packs.

"We have competed at worlds for 13, no, 14 years," he said.

Asked about his health, Tong said, "It is very bad. I don't know if you saw our twist today, but I need more power from my knees. I have had trouble, always, after the world championships last season with my knees, neck and back. That is why we took a good rest [in 2011-12] and only competed at worlds."

Aging though they may be, Pang and Tong were still a factor at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, placing second in the short and sixth in the free skate for fourth place overall. All told, they have won five world medals, including gold in 2006 and 2010. They are competing for their fourth Skate America medal here, having won bronze in 2002, gold in 2003 and silver in 2007.

Here at Skate America, the skaters didn't practice triple toes in their run-through of their free skate, choreographed by Renée Roca to Edward Elgar's "Enigma Variations," and sore knees were the reasons why.

"I have more pain on the toe," Tong said. "Maybe we will practice them tomorrow, or maybe not. Right now, the big elements are difficult for us. I hope after each competition it will get better."

Pang is also competing at far less than 100 percent.

"Her knees are also bad, and her [left] shoulder," Tong said. "After a twist in practice, we fell, and she injured her shoulder."

So why soldier on, especially when your medal cabinet is already full?

"We are so happy to be on the ice and compete," Tong said. "If you [pause], you cannot keep up the fight. You need more energy. And it is so close to the next Olympics; we hope to go to four times to the Olympics." (They placed ninth in 2002, fourth in 2006 and second to longtime teammates Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao in 2010, after finishing first in the free skate.)

An unspoken reason is the absence of another top senior pairs team in China. Three-time world junior champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han have withdrawn from their Grand Prix events with an undisclosed injury, rumored to be inflammation of Wenjing's bone plates. Three-time world silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang ended their partnership in May, with Dan Zhang retiring. Hao Zhang formed a new partnership with Peng Cheng, but they are unproven internationally.

After Sochi, Pang and Tong do plan to call it quits.

"We will get married," Tong said. "We cancelled [our wedding] before [in 2011] to take more time training, [because] we needed the difficult elements if we still wanted to compete."

The veterans have adapted their practice schedule in Beijing, training four days and then resting for three.

It hasn't helped much.

Everything still hurts.

"My doctor, he said my knees [look like] they are 80 years old," Tong said with a laugh. "He said, 'You use them too much.' "