Due to the higher latitude being more suitable for the development of winter sports, athletes from the northeastern provinces dominate the field of figure skating.
Coincidentally, Zhang Jue was from the northeast, located in H city, H province. The figure skating team of his province was well-known nationwide, especially in pairs skating, where the top performers for two generations have come from the H province team.
In this situation, being a singles skating coach like Zhang Junbao was quite challenging. Athlete selection is mainly focused on pair skating. If they find a girl who was petite, suitable for lifts, and has good jumping ability, she would be considered for pairs skating first. Similarly, for men’s singles, if there’s someone tall and naturally talented, they would also be directed towards pairs skating.
Without talented individuals to pick, even the best coach would struggle to achieve much.
Zhang Junbao was the jump coach in the team, responsible for jump training for other athletes. With his only true student in the hospital, taking his nephew for a spin wasn’t a bad idea.
After Zhang Jue recovered, he was taken to the provincial team ice ring by his uncle.
The gatekeeper, seeing the team coach with a boy even more good-looking than himself, asked curiously: “Hey, Xiao Zhang, who’s this kid? He’s quite handsome. How old is he?”
Zhang Junbao, hugging his nephew, smiled, revealing his white teeth: “He’s my sister’s kid, twelve this year. Bringing him to the team for some fun. Little Jue, this is Grandpa Wu, say hello.”
Zhang Jue politely greeted the old man: “Hello, Grandpa Wu.”
The old man chuckled and handed Zhang Jue a postcard.
Looking at the postcard, Zhang Jue found a photo of the country’s top pairs figure skating team, Jin Meng/Yao Lan, who won medals at last year’s World Championships.
This could be considered as merchandise for figure skating stars. Unfortunately, figure skating was a niche sport in their country, lacking the popularity of mainstream sports like basketball, football, table tennis, and tennis. Even with stars like Liu Feiren in athletics’ 110m hurdles, the peripheral products don’t generate much income so they were usually just given away.
Before hitting the ice, warm-ups were necessary on the ground. Zhang Junbao, usually an easygoing person, turned strict when it came to figure skating.
He clapped his hands: “Start with joint exercises, then run 5 laps around the field, high leg lifts 200 times, jumping jacks 200 times, deep squats 50 times, and 500 rope jumps. Begin.”
Zhang Jue silently followed the routine. The provincial team’s field was 400 meters per lap, totaling 2000 meters for 5 laps. Along with other exercises, Zhang Jue was exhausted and panting.
Zhang Junbao frowned: “Your stamina is really weak.”
Zhang Jue defended himself: “Uncle, I’m not an athlete, okay?”
The physical capabilities of athletes and ordinary people differ significantly. For example, while an average person might find running 5000 meters in a day sufficient, an athlete would consider a 10,000-meter sprint before training as just a warm-up.
Being able to complete the “warm-up” set by Zhang Junbao in one go already indicated that Zhang Jue was in the category of normal teenagers with relatively good physical strength.
Zhang Junbao disdainfully remarked: “I didn’t even make you frog jump around the field, consider that a favor,” and then took Zhang Jue to change into ice skates and protective gear.
Ice skates ware expensive consumables; the cheapest entry-level ones cost between 400-700 yuan, while competition-grade skates can reach nearly ten thousand yuan. Diligent athletes need to change their skates at least once a season. Moreover, as a precaution, it’s advisable to have a spare pair since athletes’ feet are still growing during their development, leading to frequent changes.
Additionally, there are ice blades beneath the skates, so blade covers for protection ware necessary, and protective gear also comes at a cost. Hiring a good coach for lessons ranges from 200 to 700 yuan per session, depending on the coach’s status.
If you want to participate in competitions, choreography fees, costume-making (for costumes like the ones used in the competitions), ware also expensive. Therefore, figure skating was a sport that requires a significant investment.
Zhang Jue didn’t continue skating back then because his brother, Xu Dela, began learning the violin, and it became financially challenging for his parents to support both children. Coupled with the pressure from the coach, who even caused him to lose two teeth, his interest waned, and he lost motivation to continue. Despite quitting competitive figure skating for many years, Zhang Jue still occasionally visited commercial ice rinks. Even as an adult, he maintained the ability to perform a double jump, thanks to a pair of ice skates gifted by his parents and various protective gear.
With an undeveloped body that not only has excellent recovery but also an incredibly light physique, Zhang Jue, after adapting for a while, started attempting jumps, landing with a somewhat unstable posture but showing no signs of falling.
Observing this, Zhang Junbao couldn’t help but be pleasantly surprised.
“A decent 2S (Salchow, a type of jump). Have you really not trained for four years?” Zhang Junbao asked.
Zhang Jue replied: “Yes, no training, but I do go ice skating occasionally.”
Zhang Junbao’s eyes lit up: “Can you do other double jumps? Show me one.”
Zhang Jue then attempted a 2lo (double loop) and a 2A (double Axel). Although still somewhat unstable, both in terms of technical standard and the number of rotations in the air, he already performed very well.
Especially the 2A, it directly astonished Zhang Junbao.
The Axel jump (A jump) was the only forward jump among all jumps. It requires a 180-degree rotation in the air, which is essentially half a turn more than other jumps. Due to its different power dynamics and higher rotational difficulty, it was the most challenging among the six jumps, earning it the title of the “jump king.”
Hence, the Axel jump was often referred to as the king of jumps.
In international competitions, top-tier male skaters often use the quadruple jump as their primary weapon. However, there are those who can execute a quadruple jump but struggle with the triple Axel (3A).
Zhang Junbao: “What else?”
Zhang Jue: “That’s it.”
Zhang Junbao couldn’t believe it: “How is that all? What about the double toe loop (2T)? That’s the simplest, right?”
Zhang Jue silently tried the jump. He had the technique, and he could complete the required rotations, but his balance on the axis was off, causing him to land like a rolling gourd.
He looked a bit embarrassed as he glanced at his uncle: “It’s been a few years since I practiced, losing some skills was inevitable.”
Actually, if he were truly only twelve years old, he probably wouldn’t have lost any of the double jumps. But wasn’t he still adapting to his body?
Zhang Junbao remained silent for a while, opened his notebook, and noted down: “The 2S, 2lo, and 2A jumps you can perform are all edge jumps. Edge jumps require good coordination. You’ve lost all toe jumps. It’s quite evident that you’re a bit one-sided in your training.”
Everyone’s physique was different, and their athletic talents vary. This is determined by genetics, and athletes are no exception. For example, Zhang Jue was the endurance type. Even after several days of rest, he can still complete the warm-up routine given by Zhang Junbao and perform jumps on ice. However, his explosive power was relatively ordinary.
What Zhang Junbao referred to as toe jumps ware the 2T, 2F, and 2lz, where these three jumps require using the front toe picks of the ice skate to push off, demanding more strength.
But with Zhang Jue’s good foundation, after an afternoon of training under Zhang Junbao’s guidance, he successfully performed the 2T.
His uncle patted the notebook: “You can even do the 2A. It shows that other jumps should be no problem. Practice well, and you’ll quickly recover all your skills.”
Zhang Jue, panting and supporting his knees, said: “Uncle, I used to be able to do the 3T and 3S. Do you think I can recover those too?”
Triple jumps ware not the same as double jumps. If an adult can reach the level of double jumps when starting figure skating, achieving triple jumps would require extraordinary effort.
However, Zhang Junbao seemed quite optimistic: “Judging by your current condition, not only can you recover the 3T and 3S, but you can probably train for the other triple jumps as well. Alright, don’t immediately stop exercising; it’s not good for your body. Slide for a while to let your body cool down slowly.”
Zhang Jue obediently went away while Zhang Junbao stood at the side, watching the small figure of his nephew with a hint of excitement in his eyes.
Ming Jia, the skating coach of the provincial team, leaned against the rink’s barrier and asked him: “Old Zhang, where did this kid come from? Good proportions, good-looking, and exceptionally skilled. He’s a great talent.”
Proudly, Zhang Junbao replied: “He’s my nephew. Not only does he look good and have a strong foundation, but he also attends ballet classes every week. Haven’t you noticed the particularly beautiful posture of his upper body when he skates?”
Ballet emphasizes stretching, straightness, and uprightness significantly enhancing qualities such as temperament, grace, and the beauty of body movements.
Ming Jia after looked for a while smiled: “Hey, he does have that kind of temperament. Coach Song has been worrying about the lack of promising young male singles skaters in the team. Do you plan to bring him into the provincial team?”
Zhang Junbao casually responded: “This kid has lost some technical skills. I’ll help him recover the triple jumps first, and then we’ll see. He has won the city’s award before, and he will continue to compete this year.”
To say that Zhang Junbao wasn’t interested in his nephew’s talent would be deceiving. Zhang Jue executed his first triple jump at the age of eight! The 2006 Winter Olympics men’s figure skating champion also performed his first triple jump at the age of eight!
Now that Zhang Jue had returned to practice figure skating on his own, Zhang Junbao would surely contemplate where this talent ultimately belonged—ballet or figure skating.
After sweating a lot, changing clothes, and carrying a bag, Zhang Jue returned to hear his uncle calling him: “Little Jue, let’s go. Uncle will take you to dinner!”
Zhang Junbao led Zhang Jue to the cafeteria and placed a nutritious meal in front of him. The plate contained lotus root slices, cucumbers, chicken breasts, and shrimps. Multigrain rice with oats, as well as a portion of purple sweet potato puree, cantaloupe, and soy milk.
Because of the variety, the plate was filled to the brim making Zhang Jue’s eyes widen in amazement.
“Uncle, I came to you to control my figure. Why did you give me so much to eat?” Zhang Jue protested.
Zhang Junbao patted the child’s head: “It’s not too much. Eat it. If you don’t eat well under such high exercise intensity, your body won’t cope. Don’t worry, I’ve calculated it. Even if you eat it all, you won’t get fat.”
Without sufficient protein and vitamins, where would the energy come from to build muscles? Without muscles, how could he recover the triple jumps?
Watching his nephew eating with gusto, Zhang Junbao revealed a loving smile, reminiscent of a farmer watering his fields.
After that, Zhang Junbao would come to pick up Zhang Jue for figure skating practice almost every other day. Zhang Jue’s parents were delighted to have a reliable elder cousin taking care of their son during busy times.
The head coach of the provincial team, Song Cheng, visited one of Zhang Jue’s training sessions and tacitly accepted the presence of this extra team member.
As Zhang Jue stumbled through the recovery of all his double jumps and started practicing the triple Salchow, his uncle asked him something after a training session.
“Little Jue, you are planning to learn singing and dancing these days?”
Zhang Jue thought for a moment: “After the winter vacation, the classes will be more frequent than usual, so I have lessons tomorrow and the day after. Vocal lessons in the morning and ballet in the evening.”
In families where parents hope their children will become successful, the lives of school-age children can be quite busy. Zhang Jue considered himself lucky, knowing that some people, especially during vacations, had their days filled with extracurricular activities to the brim.
However, because figure skating was so demanding, causing him to be covered in bruises from falls every day, vocal lessons and ballet classes were almost like a rest for him.
Zhang Junbao discussed with him: “Can you ask for leave? Our national figure skating championship is about to begin, and we’re short on ice boys. Do you want to make a guest appearance?”