They have never won Olympic gold, despite all of their triumphs (more than 50 medals, about half of them gold) in the sport. And they wanted one more chance. But Zhao would be 36 years old by the time of the Games, not exactly fresh-faced by pairs-skating standards. The idea seemed impossible.
"What do you think?" they asked her.
For Nichol, no amount of arguing or pondering or weighing the pros and cons was necessary. "Do it!" she replied. Nichol had given them some of their most memorable routines.
"Absolutely you should come back," she told them. "You have a whole country in Canada waiting to see you skate. People love what you bring to pairs skating. So please, please, please come back." Always humble, Shen and Zhao expressed astonishment on learning that it meant so much to another country to see them return. "I said, 'Guys, you have touched the hearts of so many people.' They don't realize the impact they have had on millions of people." They could have had an inkling at the 2003 world championships in Washington, when Shen badly injured an ankle falling from an attempt at a throw quadruple Salchow in practice. She had the ankle treated and numbed and skated flawlessly. Thirty seconds before their routine ended, the crowd was on it feet, screaming. Tears ran down the cheeks of stoic Chinese coach Bin Yao, standing at the rink boards. Shen and Zhao won, without question.
"I guess because they're the ones doing it, they don't realize how great they are," Nichol said.