China’s Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang are among the best when it comes to doing the twist move in pairs. Both their double and triple twist are amazingly high. Their throws are high enough that the Zhangs made history in 2001 when they became the first couple to perform a quadruple twist that was recognized by the International Figure Skating Union. They did it at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, an event they have won twice, in 2001 and 2003. “We are still doing it,” Hao Zhang said, “but it takes a lot of energy. It’s a trade-off whether we do the hardest one or save energy for the rest of the program. Next year, we may try a quadruple throw jump, but we have not tried it yet.”
The Zhangs won the Chinese pairs title last season and have finished second twice and third three times. They have also won the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in 2002 and made their first senior Grand Prix Final this season after taking the gold at Trophee Lalique and bronze at Skate America and the Cup of Russia. They were sixth at the Grand Prix Final. The couple has also won two bronze medals and one silver medal at the Four Continents Championships. They finished 11th at the 2002 Olympics and fifth at the 2004 World Championships. The Zhangs intend to skate “as long as our bodies allow us,” Hao Zhang said, “at least two Olympics. This season, we wanted to improve our position at Worlds and wanted to get at least the silver at Four Continents.” They accomplished both goals.
He began skating at four. “My father was a basketball player and he wanted me to do some sports. I started skating and swimming. After a while I decided I liked ice more than water.” He landed his first triple toe lop when he was ten and progressed as high as seventh in junior men in his province, then switched to pairs when he was 14. “Singles don’t do lifts and there’s no interaction between partners,” he said.
She started skating when she was six. “My mother thought it would be best for me,” she said, “so she sent me to learn skating. I went and fell in love with figure skating. I competed in singles for five years and was the junior national champion in 1997. I started pairs when I was 13 because of the special techniques and elements that you can’t do in singles.”
The Zhangs, who are not related, began skating together in 1998. “Dan has a very good body shape for pairs,” he said. “We know each other very well, on and off the ice, so we have good cooperation.” Hao is my only partner. He is a very good partner and knows how to take care of girls. He knows what they like.” They train in Harbin with Bin Yao and Xiao Fei Chen. Usually the skate for about two and a half hours a day, six days a week and do an hour of off ice training five days a week. This includes off ice lifts as well as muscle building classes for him and abdominal work for her. Before a competition, they also do a lot of work in front of a mirror with their choreographer.
Bin Yao and Liu Wei choreograph the couple’s programs. Yao selects the music. “He knows music very well and knows which is special,” Hao said. “He finds the music that can express our moves.” This season, they used All Alone by Joe Satriani for the short and Czardas Furstin by Emmerich Kalman for the long. “I like to skate to very soft music,” he said, “but modern music.” Off ice, he likes to listen to all kinds of music. She likes popular music.
To relax, he likes all kinds of sports and games. “I play basketball, ping pong, badminton, computer games and any other kinds of sports and games,” he said. She likes to swim and play badminton and also likes to make hand crafts with paper. She collects skating pins, while he collects coins from the places to which he has traveled. “My favorite place is Japan,” he said. “My whole family is there now. I like the cuisine and it’s near China. I would like to go to Africa and see all the wild animals and forests. There are a lot of animal shows in China that I like to watch.” She also likes Japan because “It has a similar culture, but it’s different.”
Both of the skaters have finished high school. They have been accepted at the university, but have not yet begun classes. “I am not sure of what program we will study or what we will do afterwards,” he said. “We are still young, but I like to study Chinese languages and culture.” “I’d like to have an English major,” she said. “I like to learn languages.”