Ever since the success of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, China has become a force in pair skating. Moreover, Shen and Zhao are the reason why many kids in China took up skating in the first place and later went into pair skating.
The freshly minted 2012 World Junior silver medalists in pairs, Xiaoyu Yu, 16, and Yang Jin, 17, are no exception.
Though they are still in the shadow of their already well known teammates Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, with whom they train under coach Bo Luan in Harbin, more and more people are discovering this young promising team.
This season, Yu and Jin picked up two silver medals in the Junior Grand Prix (each time beaten by Sui and Han) and placed fifth in the 2011-12 ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. The team had taken the bronze medal in their debut in the Junior Final the year before.
Yu and Jin, who teamed up in 2009, competed at the international senior level for the first time this season, ranking seventh at Skate Canada and sixth at the Cup of China. Then they returned to the junior level and won the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck in February before ending their season with the silver medal at Junior Worlds in Minsk.
“Competing at both junior and senior events this year was a valuable experience for us,” Jin said. “It certainly helped us to progress.”
Yu had taken up skating after discovering it at a shopping mall ice rink.
“I remember that I had fun right away with my friends when skating,” the teenager recalled.
Jin wanted to try skating after watching Shen and Zhao on TV as a five-year-old back in 1999. He followed their career closely.
“Their Olympic performance in 2006 left a very deep impression on me and also the Olympic Games in 2010, obviously,” he shared.
As a result, Jin naturally grew interested in pair skating.
“I did singles first, but I thought it was rather boring and I wanted to have a partner.”
However, the first two partners didn’t work out.
“The first one got injured and the second one gained too much weight,” the 17-year-old explained.
Then he went to Beijing for a tryout where he met Yu and the coaches decided they should skate together. This meant that Yu had to leave her home in Beijing and move with her mother up north to Harbin. She was new to pair skating.
“At first I was afraid of the twist,” Yu admitted. “I really enjoy the lifts, they are fun. The throws are dangerous elements, but my partner takes good care of me.”
Skating has become a full-time job for them.
“We are working from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon with on and off ice training and the break in between,” Jin noted.
In the limited spare time, Jin enjoys listening to music and playing basketball, while Yu likes to shop with her mom, surf the web, or having a good massage. At practice they prefer working on the pair elements. Jin in particular likes to train with the ice dancers.
“We do skating exercises with them and I like doing that although I am not very good at it and fall quite often,” Jin shared, laughing. “Their step sequences are really hard to do. We want to learn from the ice dancers.”
Both skaters enjoy watching ice dance.
“My favorite couple were Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov from Russia,” said Jin. “I thought they were very impressive.”
“I think we can learn a lot about expression from them,” added Yu.
The skaters and their coach feel that they benefit from training in a strong group with Sui and Han and her other eight teams.
“They have a really good, friendly relationship,” said Luan. “The boys are older than the girls and take care of them,”
“We are learning from each other in practice and the atmosphere is really good,” Jin agreed.
Presently, the hierarchy is clear – Sui and Han are the number one and Yu and Jin are the number two.
“We still need to work hard if we ever want to surpass them (Sui and Han),” admitted Jin. “They are stronger in technique and in presentation right now.”
However, he and Yu are catching up.
“We did the quad twist at a national competition last year, and we have been working on the throw quad Salchow in practice,” Jin revealed. “Maybe we can show these elements next season.”
The skaters have set a goal for next season to do their best in each competition. They don’t know yet whether they will stay in juniors or compete in seniors.
“This is up to our national federation to decide,” Jin said.
Looking at the policy of the Chinese Skating Federation in the past, this young team most likely will compete at the Junior Grand Prix and Junior Worlds again, and do one or two senior Grand Prix if the opportunity exists.
Yu and Jin would like to do two new programs, but don’t know yet which kind of music they will choose.
“We will also listen to the advice of the judges,” Jin noted.
They enjoyed both their Nutcracker short program and Requiem of a Dream free skating this season.
“Our coach picked the music,” said Jin. “We really like it because we feel it suits our style. Marina Zueva cut the music and our coach decided on the order of the elements.”
Yu and Jin are getting along very well.
“Jin Yang is good natured, Yu Xiaoyu is a little shy and very young,” said coach Luan. “She always asks the boy what she should do and how she should do it. She is very obedient.”
Jin describes his partner as “cute, shy and generous,” while Yu describes him as “smart, full of ideas, and diligent.”
Together they make a strong team and aspire to follow in the footsteps of Shen and Zhao to chase their ultimate dream, the Olympic gold medal.