Caroline (OO) has become an instant media darling after CoC, featuring in many Chinese interviews and articles. They luuuuuuuuurve her. Here's one of the latest, with many details of Caroline's whole life. I call her OO out of laziness, and because her Chinese name Yuan-Yuan means "round-round", and you'll see below whence it came. I crossed out her CoC results for those of you waiting to see it on TV.
Source (with photos of OO and her family and coaches):
OO A New Edition of Michelle Kwan, Stubborn Child Once Known as 'Slow'
May 20, 1993, Boston: a baby Chinese-American girl "flew" into the world, since her head faced up, her mother had to undergoe Cesarean section.
At the time, the delivery nurse joked, "this kid, she'll grow up to be in the circus or ballet." Who knew, some dozen years later, this casual joke would turn into truth. She is now the 2007 junior world figure skating champion, Chinese American, Zhang Yuan-Yuan (张圆圆).
In her first senior competition, she surprised many with a bronze medal at Skate America this season, and now at Cup of China she placed xxx, giving her hope for qualifying for the GPF. In OO, many people see a second Michelle Kwan. Among Chinese American competitors, and also among figure skaters all over the world, she is a steadily rising new star.
Nurse's Prediction Came True
OO is the second child in her family, her sister's name is Zhang Yang (sun) Yang (ocean), given by her paternal grandfather, meaning "following the sun, sailing across the ocean." Perhaps to fulfill this wish, about 20 years ago, Mr. Zhang and his wife moved from WuHan, China, with 4-year-old Yang-Yang, to the USA. Four years later, OO was born. At birth, she was a big 10-pound baby, with round little cheeks that made her mother to decide right away to name her Yuan-Yuan (Round-Round).
During infancy, OO didn't stand out, moreover perhaps due to personality or some other reason, she never spoke a word up to 1 year 7 months. In contrast, her now MIT-graduate sister was quite a clever child from very little -- at 13-month-old she could already learn a new ancient Chinese Tang dynasty poem a day (reciting Tang poems is a must in Chinese education, go figure), and only took 3 months to learn English!
"Previously, we really had doubts whether she had some mental problem. Because I wasn't so young when she was born, many people said middle-age pregnancy can result in the chlid's mental retardation, with frequency as high as 80%." Recalling that time, Ms. Zhao (Chinese women typically don't take on their husband's name) said with a measure of exaggeration, half-joking, half-proud. Indeed she should be proud, proud of her mistake.
When OO was 3, her family moved to California. After the move, OO completely changed. In the US, everyone really cares about a complete education, encouraging young children to learn piano, painting, athletics, etc. Back then, OO's family wasn't well off, nevertheless her father bought a Yamaha keyboard just before a work trip. Once, Twice, Ms. Zhao start teaching OO simple nursery songs, and OO already could play them without mistakes after the third try. This made her mother so excited, that she called her husband and had OO play to the telephone. From then on, OO seemed to suddenly become really good at learning everything, even starting to read simple novels shortly afterwards (everyone, get a piano for your kid!).
A Love of Skating Born of Serendipity
"What do you like?" "Skating!" "Otherwise what do you like?" "Skating!"
OO is the kind of person born to skate. A casual trip to the mall, whenever there's smooth polished floor, she can't help but start running and gliding across. But at the beginning, OO did not learn skating, that she got into it later was purely due to chance.
OO's father likes girls to be pretty and elegant (), so shortly after buying the Yamaha keyboard, he also bought a piano for the girls. Besides practicing the piano with her sister, OO was also sent to ballet classes. Cheeky little OO was quite a crowd-pleaser. Before 7, she always performed in the annual recital -- when she went back there recently, people recognized her as "that little girl" performing on stage way back then.
Once, she was brought to her ballet class by her mother as usual. As her mother waited aside quietly, she began to chat with another mother, whose daughter was a little figure skater, and came to ballet for additional training. "My daughter has already won a bunch of awards, the trophies can't even fit into the shelves at home" -- perhaps speaking of children, all mothers have the same expressions -- that lady embellished her description with her hands in the air. "I feel that your daughter dances ballet quite well. Maybe you can let her try figure skating."
This casual conversation became the start of a completely new life for OO.
OO's first time on ice was in fact not ideal, she fell hard and often. But since she's naturally stubborn, and never knows what it means to be afraid -- even though the first time on ice was a big failure, she didn't refuse to try roller skating. After some basic training of roller skating for four weeks, she tried ice skating again, and discovered some hidden talent , so she started to like this activity. "I feel so free when I'm skating, like I'm flying," OO said with sparkling eyes and an air of confidence.
At that time, OO went to skating class at the public rink once a week. Besides the group lesson, she also had 15 minutes of private lesson. After three months, she prepared for her first competition. But as it wasn't a large event, and not very formal, OO didn't have any skating attire yet and ended up competing in her ballet leotard. As for the lady who initially recommended OO to try skating, her daughter was also competing, after having skated for more than two years. As one might have guessed, the results of that competition was quite surprising that day, OO, with hardly any skating experience, defeated all the competitors and won first place. The lady who introduced OO to skating was quite unhappy just then, storming out with her child right after the competition without a word. She had no idea that this was just a prelude to OO's career, later on there will be many far more seasoned competitors who will lose to OO's blades.
Talent Plus Hard Work, Rising to Fame Through Success
As we all know, it's very easy to be competent in something, but to be extraordinary, without some natural talent, it's next to impossible.
Four years ago, Mom took OO to the well-known coach Li MingZhu. Under Li's guidance, the talented OO suddenly started to reap real rewards. At 12, OO placed second in the National Juniors competition (what are they talking about?!). At 13, she started to appear on the international scene. In September and October of that year, she won JGP Mexico & JGP Taipei and qualified for the JGPF. In the freeskate portion of the Final, OO earned a high score of 105.87, plus 56.8 in the short program, she scored a total of 162.67 for a victory with more than 20 points to spare. Afterwards, Ms. Li thought that such scores could place as high as third place in the Senior event (maybe she means GPF?).
During 2007, the rapidly maturing OO started to collect even greater success. First in March, she won the Junior WC in Obersdorf, Germany. "Our experience from that day is unforgettable. Because Coach Li and OO's father planned to leave for their trip a day later, they arrived just a few minutes before OO's free skate after a long and exhausting journey -- as a reward though OO completed a beautiful program." Mother still remembers that day clearly, and OO also thinks that competition was the most memorable so far.
After placing first in the SP, she skated to Meditation from Thais for the LP. First up was the difficult 3Z-2T-2Lp -- making more people notice this beautiful and talented Chinese-American girl. She scored 110.08, surpassing her personal best of 106.40 from JGPF, and overall she won with 169.25 her most important skating title so far in her career.
Afterwards, OO started to participate in Seinior grand prix, first up Skate America. Beforehand, her had injured her ankle, but she didn't tell anyone, just gritted her teeth and completed the difficult programs (she was still injured at CoC, using painkillers during the competitions). After watching the SP, her sister found her own face strewn with tears. She said, this is the first time she cried out of happiness -- previously she also sometimes cried at OO's competitions, but always out of sadness. Although in this competition, OO's 3F/3T was not ratified due to under-rotation, she still achieved a fantastic result by winning medal in her very first senior competition.
Mother: Actually She is Even Younger than She is
Unaware of the freezing weather of Harbin, OO didn't bring along a thick coat. The trip back from the rink to the hotel was often freezing. Every time her mother brought along a black-and-white coat, although every time OO also refused to wear this "ugly" coat. Still, her mother brought it along each time, and always asked OO if she wanted the coat against the cold.
US-born OO has been to Beijing, Shanghai, and also WuHan, where her maternal grandparents still live, although the trips did not number many. Coming back to China this time, she was curious about many things -- seeing roasted red sweet potato, she would enthusiastically run up with a little yelp, and pick out the smallest one ().
"My favorite is YouTiao (fried dough), and green-onion-pancake without the green onion," OO declared as she waved the candied squash (don't ask me!) in her hand that she just bought. "She's talking about the thousand-layer pancake, something her grandfather bought for them in WuHan," her mother explained. "I'm really lazy now, it used to be that I would cook 20-plus dishes for dinner guests, but now it's always fast food, or otherwise I buy some ready-made meals and warm them up at home," she said with a hint of shame.
Actually, Ms. Zhang takes great care of OO. Every time for a competition, regardless of where, she always accompanies her daughter to ensure her comfort. Since USFSA only pays for coaches and team members' expenses, she has to pay for all her own personal expenses such as housing and food. Several times a year, it's not a small amount.
"I feel like her real age is at most 8, therefore I need to give her some extra care & attention." Perhaps all mothers treat their children like kids. Actually, one can also use another word to describe this feeling, and that's "love."
Sister: I Really "Like" Her (Chinese people rarely say "love" in public)
"Can I take it off?" Wearing a white mini-skirt in this wintry day, Sister's thighs are already covered with goose bumps. After the competition, she immediately asked OO if she can go and change, and upon confirmation she said "Thank You!" with great relief.
At a recent small competition in the US back in August -- in her sister's words, it was an "exercise" for OO (must be Golden West, where OO scored 63 for the SP with a ratified 3/3) -- Yang-Yang wore a green outfit and a miniskirt to cheer OO on. Incidentally, OO performed very well, so since then, whenever, wherever her sister comes to watch her compete, OO would ask her to wear this outfit. But by now, this superstition has persisted to the frozen winter days of China's Northeast (next door to Siberia!).
Zhang Yang-Yang is a real beauty (oh my God, all the male reporters seem to be falling in love with her at first sight, so funny!). I remember the first time I saw her, it was in the hotel room, she quietly sat beside the window, soft black hair comfortably falling down her chest, a tight-fitting black outfit revealing her shapely figure. As a ray of sunshine, filtering through the white curtain, fell on her face in profile, suddenly she seemed a little vulnerable.
Usually, people gifted with beauty and perfection also expect people around them to be beautiful and perfect. However, she said earnestly, when she first saw her newborn baby sister, she had a fleeting feeling of disappointment.
"I have always wanted a sister. When OO was still inside Mom, I sang to the baby all day long, and prayed for a sister. I remember the day when she was born, I wasn't in the hospital but in school. When they finally came home, I actually felt a bit disappointed, because she didn't look very pretty when she was born, a mix of red and yellow, like an orange!"
Despite this, disappointment was replaced by happiness. After all, Yang-Yang finally had her own little sister. She was just 8 then, and all day long she wanted to hold her sister, but because her arms were weak, plus OO was born rather heavy, Sister often fell along with OO as she lost her own balance. "I remember I dropped her eight times, later on she was a bit 'slow' perhaps due to this. Haha!" Yang-Yang laughed sweetly, curved eyes (considered a trait of Chinese beauty) full of love.
"The two of them can't live together or leave each other -- together they would fight, apart they would miss each other," their mother stood aside said in resignation. "I can write 'I', can you?" "I can write 'nose', 'mouth', can you?" "I can also write from 'one' to 'one hundred', can you?" -- even as we were talking, the two sisters are already arguing about who can write more Chinese characters.
Aside from chatting, reading, they often play cards. But no matter what game, big sister almost never wins." "When we play cards, we don't have real rules. All the rules are set by OO, the top rule is that she has to win, all the other rules must come after the first. But after all I'm much older, so I guess I should let her win," whenever Yang-yang speaks of her little sister, she always looks so happy.
In Yang-Yang's wallet there are two photos, one is of her and her boyfriend, the other is a baby photo of OO. Nowadays for every international competition, Yang-Yang would go along with her mother to accompany OO, "Because Mom and Coach are rather strict & stern, I feel perhaps I can help her relax." With every little bit of free time, OO would beg her sister along to take her shopping. "We really like shopping, we plan to go walk around in JiaLeFu (some well-known Chinese food market I guess) in a bit." As soon as the competition finished, OO wore an expression of anticipation, as she began to run outside, dragging along her little suitcase.
Coach: She is Like a Fighting Chicken (It's a favorite past-time in China to have chickens fight each other, also crickets, etc. If you haven't seen what a chicken in battle looks like, then well...)
In the US, there are many rinks, every coach has his/her own territory. The successful Chinese Coach Li is well-known, and many come due to her reputation. OO is one among them, but Coach Li said, actually she knew some things about this little girl beforehand.
However, when she finally got to know OO, Coach Li was still quite surprised. "I felt very excited at the time, her flexibility, rhythmicity, self-control, etc. were all wonderful. But the most promising quality was her mentality: she is like a chicken in battle, she likes to face challenge and fight for it relentlessly. Such a quality in an athlete is invaluable." Her eyes still shone as Li described this initial impression.
This summer, in preparation for competing with the seniors, OO trained really hard. Back in April, she couldn't do 3F-3T, but since she saw others doing it, she struggled to master it herself. Since then, she practiced this jump everyday, an hour or two each day -- jumping and falling continuously. For difficult jumps like this, without constant practice and consequent familiarity (Johnny, do you hear that?), the success rate would be very low. After a day of practice, and a dozen or more falls, OO's thighs were sometimes swollen. It hurt her mother and sister greatly to watch this, even the coach asked her to stop, but she still wordlessly continued to jump and fall.
"She is a very stubborn child. We need to slowly let her understand that sports is a science, and success builds on gradual progress. Before maturity, whether a move is successful depends on many external factors, perhaps you feel just a little bit of pressure, and then the move wouldn't work. There was one period, during which she could do the 3F-3T, but she couldn't do it within a program. So she would repeat and repeat, and without mastering the combo she refused to move on. Sometimes she really couldn't do it right, she would get frustrated to the point of tears. At that time, I would stop the practice." Li said, OO is a very special child, something in OO's personality moved her and also changed her a little.
"It's different than how it was with Chen Lu. Back then, we always planned ahead of time what to do, and the student would just go out and do it -- Chen Lu was also a very obedient child. But OO is not like that, she is more independent. Often we would discuss with her beforehand, she would say, "Oh, today I want to work on such and such." Then I would re-arrange things according to the situation. But in truth, if you force her to do something, the results wouldn't be good either, it's better not to even try."
Actually OO's personality is a little bit like her coach's, who is also the kind of person that has her own mind -- she says her dream is to produce the best possible athlete, to become the best possible coach. Meanwhile, she also has high hopes for OO, "for all athletes, the top goal is naturally the Olympics, the world championship, this is something they've been working hard toward their whole life, and also something aimed for by the coaches. Now OO is 14, two years later, she will be 16, the perfect age, she has great a great opportunity."
"However right now she still has not perfected her techniques, this aspect needs to be emphasized." Coach Li believes that if OO wants to have an Olympic, she still needs to work hard on many things. "On some details, she needs to pay more attention. Plus, she needs some strengthening exercise, as she tends to slow down in the second half of programs, probably she needs some weight-lifting exercises to help her. Of course, there is also ballet, and musical understanding, etc. She still needs to learn so much, but after all she is only 14 years old, we cannot ask more from her."