Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo: a gold medal at their fourth attempt
Russian or Soviet athletes had won gold medals in the competition at each Winter Games since 1964, one of the longest winning streaks in Olympic history. Meanwhile, China had never won a gold medal in the discipline, but in Vancouver they had a pair who suggested that might be about to change.
Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo had been skating together since 1992, having first competed at the Winter Games back in 1998. They came fifth on that occasion, and then won bronze medals in both 2002 and 2006, though they might have done even better had their preparations not been hindered by injury. By the time they arrived in Vancouver, then, they were seasoned veterans of the Olympic stage.
The two were more than just a couple on the ice, having married in 2007, shortly after setting a new world record en route to winning a third world title. Soon after that they announced their retirement from the sport, but returned to action in 2009 with the stated aim of competing in Vancouver. It was immediately clear that they had lost none of their brilliance, and were soon notching up more victories and world records.
The question was, could they finally better third place on the Olympic podium? The early indications were that they certainly could, as they set a new world record of 76.66 points in the short programme to surge into the lead. The next day they returned for the free programme, and this time recorded a personal best. Though not the best score of the day – that honour went to their compatriots Pang Qing and Tong Jian – their total of 139.91 was more than enough to earn them a gold medal at their fourth attempt.
After 46 years of unbroken success, Russia’s skaters failed to even make the podium, with Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy taking bronze behind the two Chinese couples.
It was the culmination of a dream for Shen and Zhao, who then decided to hang up their skates for good.