The figure skating season was generally divided into two phases. The first half runs from September to December, with the most significant event during this period being the Grand Prix.
In the second half, from January to March, the European Figure Skating Championships take place at the end of January, followed by the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and finally, the World Championships in late March.
Only European skaters could participate in the European Championships.
While only athletes from North America, South America, Asia, and Australia could compete in the Four Continents Championships;
No one could participate in both the European Championships and the Four Continents Championships.s
This year is 2010, and in February, Vancouver will host the Winter Olympics that happened just once every four years. For figure skating, this was the most exposed and prestigious stage.
Whether it’s the European Championships, Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, the Olympics, or the World Championships, the number of available slots was limited. Each country’s figure skating association would select athletes with good domestic competition results to participate.
In the current Winter Olympics, out of the four figure skating categories for China, pairs skating secured three Olympic slots, while ladies’ singles, men’s singles, and ice dance each had only one slot. Therefore, only the champion of this year’s Grand Prix would get the opportunity to go to Vancouver.
“Figure skating relies on youth. If you are over 23 years old, you can call yourself a veteran and retire at any time. For many athletes, if they cannot participate in this Olympics, they will not be able to survive the next one, such as Shen Liu. ”
Zhang Junbao, leaning on the railing, explained to Zhang Jue: “Shen Liu is 22 years old. Four years ago, his skills weren’t sufficient, and he didn’t qualify to compete for Olympic slots. Now that his technique has improved, he had a fall in September last year, and he had to withdraw from the competition for half the season. He resumed training before fully recovering from the injury, showing how much he wants to go to Vancouver.”
Zhang Jue scratched his head: “Uncle, I remember Shen Liu is currently the only male single skater in our country who can perform a quadruple jump, right?”
At present, there are only about a dozen people in the world who can perform a quadruple jump. In China’s figure skating desert, having one skater who can do a quadruple jump already makes them a steady top player in the field.
Zhang Junbao nodded: “Exactly. Young Shen is in the national team now.”
The uncle gave a thumbs up.
“But there’s only one slot. If he accidentally fails at the Grand Prix, he will still have to accept his fate if he loses this quota. But then we should not count on the performance of men’s singles in the Olympics.”
Although men’s singles skating still doesn’t attract much attention domestically, pair skating has good results, so everyone focuses on pairs skating.
Zhang Junbao sighed: “Unfortunately, the Olympic slots are determined based on the ‘World Championships’ results. Shen Liu was hoping to get into the top ten at the World Championships last season, giving our country’s men’s singles an extra slot. Being a lone top player is not easy. In the end, he skated to twelfth place. Look at him now, even during warm-ups, he wears a serious expression. If our figure skating talent pool were a bit stronger, with a few more excellent young male singles skaters, Shen Liu wouldn’t feel so much pressure.”
In figure skating, a sport where judges ware aesthetics enthusiasts, coaches also consider the athletes’ appearance when selecting talents. For example, Zhang Junbao looked quite good, and the athletes currently warming up on the ice ware also all good-looking.
While Zhang Junbao was talking, he glanced at Zhang Jue. After training, the kid had already recovered the triple salchow and could even do a triple salchow + double toe loop combination jump. This progress was indeed impressive.
Zhang Jue muttered sayings like: “If heaven has feelings, so does aging. Life is really beautiful.” Carrying his ice skates, he turned and left, deliberately avoiding his uncle’s eyes full of anticipation.
It’s not that Zhang Jue doesn’t understand his uncle’s eager expectations, but he prefers stages that bring him a lot of attention. So, his dream was still to become an idol.
Being athlete was too exhausting, and those who make it to the top-level competitions ware often plagued by injuries. The cost-benefit ratio was also low, while they didn’t earn much money. From the beginning, this career option was not within Zhang Jue’s consideration.
However, Zhang Jue also knew that, apart from himself, his uncle might not encounter a talent of his caliber for decades. Otherwise, his uncle wouldn’t be troubled enough to develop alcoholism and end up with liver cancer.
The six-minute warm-up before the official start of the competition ended, and except for those about to compete, other athletes left the ice surface and headed to the waiting area.
The National Figure Skating Championships span three days, with the first day featuring the men’s short program, ladies’ short program, and ice dance compulsory dance.
The short program lasts 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Athletes need to perform three different jumps within this time, including a single jump, an Axel jump, a combination jump, set of steps and three spins.
Judges evaluate athletes based on their technical moves, adding or subtracting from the base score with the Grade of Execution (GOE). The final score including the performance score.
As this wass a domestic competition all judges ware from the home country, ensuring fairness. Athletes ware also familiar with the home environment, leading to mostly good performances.
From Zhang Jue’s perspective, most male skaters on the ice have standard technical skills, but to Zhang Jue, a former stage performer, their performances seemed quite ordinary.
This was also the norm for Chinese athletes. For technical scores, everyone diligently practiced jumps. However, in other aspects, their expressiveness tended to be flat, while some of them focused too much on jumps, neglecting the quality of gliding and spinning.
Until Shen Liu took the stage.
His performance was set to the not-so-novel “Canon,” a piece chosen by at least three individual skaters in the skating community this season, bordering on being overused.
However, Shen Liu’s performance was unique. His jumps were exquisite, although his body lacked the grace of those seasoned performers. His upper body appeared stiff, yet his overall performance surpassed others.
Because Shen Liu invested genuine emotions into his program.
This was Zhang Jue’s first time to watch a competition live. In this athlete, he saw a very pure love for figure skating Even if a performer was not highly skilled in dance techniques, when they wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to the stage, they can still move the audience.
Shen Liu became China’s only male figure skater who could stand out internationally, not merely because of his quadruple jumps.
“He is a true performer.”
This skater’s performance style was steady yet carried the vibrancy of youth, aligning perfectly with the musical theme.
Shen Liu was pale and indifferent, but his program could give people a warm, blossoming feeling, something only someone who truly understands the music could achieve.
Even though Shen Liu, for stability, didn’t attempt a quadruple jump in the short program, having only 3A, 3F, and 3Lz+3T, the ease and composure with which he executed these jumps increased the program’s completion level, making the performance more integrated.
As this program concluded, anyone could see that Shen Liu’s score would be the highest in the competition, as even the audience gave him the most enthusiastic applause since the start of the competition.
Zhang Junbao praised: “Shen Liu’s short program this time is well-executed. As long as he doesn’t majorly mess up in the free program, his spot for Vancouver is secure.”
“You also said there would not be any major mess-up.”
National team head coach Sun Qian appeared next to Zhang Junbao out of nowhere, wearing a serious expression: “Shen Liu’s biggest flaw is his instability. His mentality is not strong. Every time he performs well in the short program, he wants to do even better in the free program, putting too much pressure on himself…”
Figure skating is already a sport highly dependent on the athlete own mental condition. If athletes add self-inflicted pressure, aren’t they clearly setting themselves up for a meltdown on the competition stage?
Zhang Junbao, upon seeing the newcomer, involuntarily stood straight: “Coach Sun.”
Despite Coach Sun primarily coaching pair skating, any athlete who has been part of the national team has previously listened to the teachings of this father figure of Chinese figure skating.
Coach Sun waved his hand: “Shen Liu’s talent is much stronger than yours back in the day. If he could be a bit more stable in competitions, he would have been in the top ten in world rankings.”
“I don’t know why, but these past two years, the male singles prospects found by the national team are either lacking in talent, or their mentality is lacking. How great would it be if Shen Liu’s jumping talent could be combined with your big heart?”
The primary state of competitive sports is a group of people working hard, and the top competitive arena is a group of people who work hard to compete for talent. Zhang Junbao, in his earlier years, lacked talent. His highest-difficulty jump was only a 3Lz, suitable for domestic competitions but insufficient for the international stage.
Zhang Junbao awkwardly smiled: “You once said I was the fearless underdog, but, in reality, having a competitive spirit in children is a good thing. The main thing is to find a good balance between mentality and reality. Speaking of which, I feel that the male singles talents in the country these past two years are tricky. Like the one I’m coaching now, his talent is absolutely no less than Shen Liu’s, and his mentality should be not worse than mine. But…”
He paused and, under Coach Sun’s curious gaze, completed the latter half of the sentence.
“He has no intention of being an athlete. He finds it too tough, getting covered in injuries without reaping any benefits. With no money and no popularity, being an athlete doesn’t fit into his life plan.”
Such a practical refusal reason made Coach Sun’s mouth twitch: “How old is this prospect you’re talking about?”
Why does it sounded like the kid was older than he seemed?
Zhang Junbao pointed to the ice below: “See, the best-looking one among the ice kids clearing the rink? That my sister’s child.”
Coach Sun, peering through his reading glasses, took a look: “Well! Your kid hasn’t even turned 10, and he already got his life plan sorted out?”
Zhang Junbao said: “Coach Sun, my nephew is 12 this year. His birthday is in June, so he’s just about half a year away from turning 13.”
Coach Sun paused, his tone increasingly heartfelt and anxious: “Being short is good. Short stature means a lower center of gravity, making jumps more stable than others. You don’t know. When Shen Liu was growing, he shot up from 163 cm to 172 cm in one go. I was scared to death. I kept dreaming that he wouldn’t continue growing.”
Zhang Junbao’s nephew, just looking at him you could clearly tell that he was not going to surpass 170 cm even when he became an adult, with a particularly good-looking body proportion. Wasn’t he born for figure skating just judging by his physique?
But the kid’s reason for not wanting to be an athlete was so practical that even the head coach of the national team couldn’t refute. In the end, Coach Sun could only wave his hand, pretending not to have heard the news that Zhang Junbao had picked up a great prospect.
Meanwhile, Zhang Jue had a very fulfilling day. He and a group of young skaters cleared the ice of the bouquets after the competition. After the competition ended, he even joined the staff to replenish the ice, thus acquiring the skill of ice replenishment.
In addition, taking advantage of the late departure from the venue, he skated on this competition-grade ice rink. Competition-grade ice rinks ware spacious, and when the ice is frozen, they mix in milk, making it even more smooth. Zhang Jue couldn’t help but enjoy himself after a while.
With a swish, the young boy on the ice performed his most familiar move, the Salchow jump (S jump).
First was the relatively simple 2S, a jump that many young skaters could execute. Then came the 3S. Zhang Jue, considering 10 jumps as one set, practicing his jumps on the ice that had just hosted a national-level competition.
The feeling of having this entire silver-white world to himself was fantastic. Zhang Jue fantasized that the seats around him were filled with spectators who had come just for him. Not the scene from the National Championship where less than half the seats were occupied, but an entire venue filled with ice-skating enthusiasts, focused on watching each of his jumps, cheering for each successful one.
The spotlights flickered, as if he were a superstar.
On the 11th 3S, Zhang Jue attempted to raise his hands in the air, clasping them together while airborne.
When most athletes jump, their upper bodies will tighten to make their jumping axis thinner and their rotation speed faster. This can also stabilize their aerial axis and increase their jumping success rate.
But in this instant, Zhang Jue defied the law of tightening the upper body during jumps, making his posture during the jump as graceful as in ballet.
A crisp clash echoed as the boy landed steadily on the ice. The blades of his skates glided effortlessly, forming a beautiful semicircle as he slid out.
This graceful jump caught the eye of Shen Liu, who had entered the ice rink. He was full of amazement, almost speechless.
Then he saw the boy’s skate get stuck in an unrepaired pothole, and the entire person tumbled far on the ice. He then clutched his ankle, emitting a howl like a naughty child.
“Ouch! It hurts so much!”
For some reason, in Shen Liu’s heart, the words the coach repeatedly admonished the kids when they first stepped onto the ice years ago inexplicably surfaced.
“Remember, jumping is a dangerous move. You must do it when the coach is watching. Don’t practice jumps alone, or if you break your leg, no one will take care of you. I’ll say it again, no secretly practicing jumps alone, do you hear me?! “