Chinese Couple Wins Pairs Gold

Russians leave empty-handed

Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo came out of retirement for this -- to finally win their gold Olympic medal.

The married Chinese couple won the pairs figure skating gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics Monday, just ahead of countrymen Pang Qing and Tong Jian.

It wasn't the best skate of their career, but it was good enough for gold -- and that was all that mattered.

Their score of 216.57 points was more than three points ahead of their teammates Pang and Tong. When Shen and Zhao finished their routine, Zhao knelt to the ice, burying his face in his hands while his wife patted his back. He pumped his fist several times while she beamed, her grin so bright it could light up the entire arena.

"It's been so many years," Zhao said, "to finally get this gold today is so exciting."

Aliona Savchenkoand Robin Szolkowyof Germany -- in second place after the short program -- dropped to the bronze medal after a flawed free skate.

"I think everyone knows we're a little disappointed," Szolkowy said. "Our performance tonight was not the one we wanted to show."

It is the first time since 1960 that a Russian or Soviet couple is not atop the Olympic podium, ending one of the longest winning streaks in sports. Even more surprisingly, the Russians are leaving empty-handed, with no medals of any color in the event.

Shen and Zhao, bronze medalists at the last two Olympic Games, retired in 2007. They got married, and lived the easy life of retirees, doing shows and appearances. But something was lacking -- that gold medal.

They returned this season and despite being 31 and 36, ancient in pairs skating, dominated everywhere they skated. And the Olympic competition was no different.

"So many years have been devoted to this dream," Zhao said.
Skating last, and knowing the couples who could steal their gold had made errors, they performed with the passion that has become their new trademark. The interpretation to "Adagio in G Minor" was mesmerizing, with their choreography perfectly in tune to their music.

"To get the figure skating gold and silver has been a hope for so long," Shen said. "Now it's been realized."

Shen and Zhao did have one mistake, and it was shocking -- she slipped down his back during one of their lifts, a move that is normally automatic for them. The crowd gasped, and a look of exasperation crossed her face.

But they recovered immediately, and finished the program with a beautiful carry lift that circled half of the ice.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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