For once in the last couple of days, the noise surrounding the figure skating competition at 2022 Olympics fell silent – and all people, skating fans, observers and skaters altogether joined voices, hands in celebrating Wenjing Sui and Cong Han’s Olympic gold in the pairs’ event.
It is exactly what the Chinese have hoped for with their free skate this season, to the emotional “Bridge Over Troubled Water”: to create a bridge to the world, connecting their emotions to ours.
On the ice of Capitol Indoor Stadium in Beijing, a meaningful space throughout their career, on February 19, they did just that: united us all in celebrating them.
And what a joy has been to be a part of the worldwide celebration.
by Florentina Tone
At Gran Premio d’Italia, this season, and even earlier, at 2021 Skate Canada, their first Grand Prix event, Wenjing and Cong have offered lengthy answers on why they came back to one of their trademark free programs, and reworked it, with the Olympics in Beijing in sight: they first used this music, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, in 2016-2017, a season they capped with their first World title, in Helsinki.
You know what it was, what it looked like back then: a statement of love for the sport.
Wenjing had had a major surgery on both legs in May 2016, and her long and painful rehabilitation only made them discover just how much they loved to be on the ice. “After the surgery, I had to learn to walk, just like a baby. It was such a hard time, and I still fight every day. But I know I love skating, I can’t bear it if my life does not include skating”, she said in March 2017.
Going for their second Olympics, after what has been a disappointing silver medal in PyeongChang, in 2018, along with Lori Nichol, their longtime choreographer, Wenjing and Cong wanted that music again.
But they added to the John Legend’s version of the song the one performed by Linda Eder.
They made it round, complete – as if Wenjing and Cong, their voices were telling the whole story.
In a way, it was just that – and Wenjing would talk about it at length, in Turin, last November. That meaningful it felt, that much she wanted to share what was behind their choice of music, and their wish to revisit the program with their choreographer. At her side, Cong would listen, and listen, and smile – and Wenjing’s detailed answer in Chinese would be translated for all of us in the room.
And leave us, once again, in awe with their maturity, with them always looking for a meaning in everything they do.
THEIR FREE PROGRAM? A METAPHOR
Wenjing: “We first choreographed this program in 2017, when I was recovering from surgery and Cong was my bridge. And throughout the years, including Cong having his own surgery, we became each other’s bridge. And every time we take the ice together, we want to show just how deeply we love figure skating.
However, this bridge isn’t just for us.
During our choreography process with Lori [prior to this season], there were a lot of moments when we had tears in our eyes. Because we could really feel Lori, even though we were choreographing the program through Zoom: we felt that we had the connection, and the bridge to Lori’s heart. That’s why we believed we would complete a good program together, to touch everyone’s heart.
We all have been through difficult times, when we have not been able to see our friends and families, and whenever we see each other, we don’t know when the next time will be – so even if we cannot see each other in person, or touch each other, I hope through phones, or through sharing the same feelings, we could still have this connection and become a bridge to each other’s hearts.
And I really hope that can we lighten up the world, and help and support everyone, while bringing our sincere emotions through our programs”.
At the end of Wenjing’s answer, I can tell you, every single person in the room was moved – and spontaneous applause followed.
That sincere it felt, that beautiful.
Having won gold in both of their Grand Prix events this season, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han were ready to return to China, and continue their preparation for the Olympics on home soil.
Did they feel the pressure already?, they were asked – and Wenjing would take the floor again.
“The theme of our free skate is to embrace the world and touch more people – and our intention for skating is the same.
Of course we feel the pressure, but pressure is also motivation, and I hope that pressure will empower us to show better programs. We want to show the world that we are fighters, and I hope that our programs will inspire and influence those facing challenges to stand up as well”.
That was in November 2021.
And with the Grand Prix Final in Osaka, in December, being cancelled due to Omicron’s escalation – that meant that Wenjing Sui and Cong Han’s next event was going to be the biggest of all: the Olympics.
But their quest for the Olympic gold has a preview, we might call it that: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han skate their short program, to music from the movie “Mission: Impossible 2”, on the first day of the Team Event, on February 4.
It’s Veni, vidi, vici for the two.
The Chinese win this segment of the Team Event in commanding fashion, with a world record score (82.83 points), defeating World champions and gold-contenders Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, in what was their first encounter since 2021 Worlds in Stockholm.
And one can easily sense just how big this (intermediate) win is, and a much-welcomed boost of confidence for the individual event to come.
2022? 2018? WHO KNOWS?
Two weeks after, on February 18, the skaters are ready to take the ice for what is the last figure skating event at 2022 Olympics: the pairs’ event.
And it’s a cleansing experience after the turmoil surrounding the women’s event at the Olympics – and we all need something to nurse our emotional wounds.
And skating their short program for the second time at the Olympics, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han look fierce, they look determined. The ice is theirs, they own it, and you can almost cut the intensity of their program with a knife.
And it’s again a world record score, 84.41 points, rewarding a glorious performance that has them in the lead at the end of the day: they sit in first place, closely followed by ROC’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (84.25 points) and ROC’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov (82.76 points).
And if something looks rather familiar, you got that right: the 1-2 places after pairs’ SP are mirroring to perfection the 1-2 places from PyeongChang four years ago.
2022, Pairs’ SP
1. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han: 84.41 points
2. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov: 84.25 points
2018, Pairs’ SP
1. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han: 82.39 points
2. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov: 81.68 points
A wonderful proof that these two pairs stayed competitive throughout the years – and so they meet again, on the world’s greatest stage at all, at the Olympics.
A JOURNEY. THEIR JOURNEY
A day later, Wenjing and Cong finally get to skate their beloved program bearing a message of unity and love to the entire world.
Eyes closed, leaning on each other in the opening pose, and in so many other moments throughout their skate, they embody every little nuance in “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – and the program itself becomes a friend, and a bridge supporting Wenjing Sui and Cong Han’s dreams in Beijing.
And what an emotional journey this is.
One that is embroidered with lots of difficult elements – they brought back the quad Twist; chose a more valuable version of the death spiral, apart from all the other elements – to make sure they’d have the edge.
And, apart from an error on the side-by-side Salchow from Wenjing, that was a superb skate, their total score overtaking Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov’s one by only 0.63 points.
239.88, their world record total score, vs 239.25 points, Evgenia and Vladimir.
Four years ago, Wenjing and Cong lost the gold to Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot by 0.43 points – now, the smallest of margin has been in their favor.
And Cong Han screams with relief while seeing the scores, the whole team of coaches runs in the Kiss and Cry for a collective hug, and you can’t see Wenjing anymore. But you know she’s there somewhere, laughing, crying – and so are we.
And fans on twitter are ready to rejoice: this brilliant team, skating together for 15 years, has just completed the “super slam”, the first and only pair to do so.
What is this, you ask?
Winning gold in every type of major competition they entered: Junior Grand Prix Final, Junior Worlds, Grand Prix Final, Four Continents, World Championships – and now Olympics.
And fellow skaters express their joy, their gratitude as well:
Kaitlyn Weaver: “OLY CHAMPIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Artists, legends, champions!!!! Thank you for that moment of art and beauty!!!! We love you!”
Ashley Wagner: “So proud of Sui/Han. They are my forever favs. Every millisecond makes you feel something in that program. ANGELS. I love them”.
Adam Rippon: “The Pairs event was the most perfect way to end this Olympics for figure skating. Started crying half-way through Sui and Han”.
12 years after Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao won the pairs’ event at 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han follow into their footsteps – and win gold on home soil.
And they do hope the Chinese pairs’ heritage will continue – and Wenjing shares her own story as a precious example.
“I started learning skating after watching my coaches on TV, so I’m grateful to be able to be coached by my idols. We want to inspire more people to love this sport – it’s the second gold for China in pairs and it won’t be the last one”.
[Feature by Florentina Tone/Photos embedded from Getty Images/Photos from Turin by Alberto Ponti/Homepage © International Skating Union]
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