Figure Skating: I’m More Suited for the Olympics – Chapter 54 Limits

Zhang Junbao’s performance was “Memory,” while Shen Liu’s performance was titled “Contemplation.” From their program choices, it was evident that both of them favored lyrical and artistic styles. The difference lay in Zhang Junbao’s strong expressiveness, while Shen Liu excelled in technical difficulty.

But now this artistic atmosphere was nowhere to be found. The two coaches had turned into irritable seniors, giving a good spanking to the mischievous students. Then, Zhang Junbao lifted Zhang Jue horizontally like a shoulder pole, while Shen Liu checked his watch, muttering.

“Zhang Jue, you still have 50 minutes until 2 o’clock. Seize this time for another nap, or your afternoon training will be lackluster.”

Insufficient rest before high-intensity training was a big taboo.

The mischievous student acknowledged with an “oh,” even though he had just been spanked in front of others. He showed no embarrassment and propped his chin with both hands, giving a sweet smile to Dong Xiaolong. He even waved his hand as if greeting.

Seeing his composed demeanor, it seemed he had learned how to maintain balance even when lifted, perhaps from his partner in pair skating.

Despite feeling that Zhang Jue acted like a mischievous child, Dong Xiaolong couldn’t help but find this student exceptionally cute.

Until he rolled into the rest area, Zhang Junbao called Dong Xiaolong to the office while Shen Liu put away the broom. Walking over, Shen Liu combed his disheveled hair, standing in front of a cabinet, and asked him.

“Xiaolong, juice or milk? We have pitaya banana juice here, and the milk is fresh from the cow, just a few days old.”

Dong Xiaolong, sitting with legs crossed, replied cautiously: “No, thanks. I’ll just have water.”

Zhang Junbao chimed in: “We don’t have water here. Shall I go to the canteen to get some for you?”

Dong Xiaolong, still reserved, said: “No need, I’ll have milk then.”

Three grown men, each with a glass of milk, lowered their heads for a sip, leaving a milk mustache on their lips.

Dong Xiaolong licked his upper lip discreetly, subtly surveying the office. In less than two years, the room seemed much brighter. The curtains were light green with cartoon crocodiles. The bookshelf displayed titles like “Sports Anatomy,” “Sports Injury Rehabilitation,” “Scientific Nutrition Guide,” and “Cat’s Thoughts.” There were also open boxes with shiny medals, showing the owner’s meticulous care for these awards, which were regularly polished.

Additionally, a new computer, a small refrigerator, and several potted plants had been added. Outside, the old elms swayed gently, producing a rustling sound in the wind.

Athletes generally took naps during lunchtime, making the provincial team exceptionally quiet at noon. Dong Xiaolong sought a topic: ” Senior Zhang, you don’t hide beers in the office anymore, right?”

Zhang Junbao, with legs crossed, a refreshing look on his face, replied at a steady pace: “All found by Zhang Jue and thrown away. That kid is quite tricky. No matter where I hide them, he can always find them. I’m not a drinker now.”

The nephew was just like his uncle. Zhang Jue, having defeated school bullies, has proven himself. Zhang Junbao was not a simple guy either, breaking chair legs and smoking. He’s not as honest as his sister’s nephew, but he can smoke and drink. Close peers knew he was a “bad boy.”

Unlike Shen Liu, who excels in jumps and appears to have a bright future, Zhang Junbao’s jumping talent has already hit a ceiling. He can only serve as a substitute player, stepping up only when the first seed is injured. He’s like a shadow in the spotlight, and people tend to admire his strength. In Dong Xiaolong’s memory, for a long time, only Shen Liu would approach this senior.

Like other peers, Dong Xiaolong did not get too close to Zhang Junbao. Everyone maintained a suitable camaraderie, neither too close nor too distant. Until one day, Zhang Junbao entered the room carrying a bag of ice cream. He distributed them to teammates one by one. When he reached the last two, one of the ice cream wrappers had a torn corner. Zhang Junbao, holding that torn corner, casually handed the intact ice cream to Dong Xiaolong.

It was this detail that changed Dong Xiaolong’s view of Zhang Junbao. Moreover, seeing Zhang Junbao taking care of Zhang Jue so well, he subconsciously thought this senior had turned over a new leaf and become a good senior. However, looking at Zhang Junbao’s expression now, this junior fellow became reserved again.

Shen Liu propped up one hand on the sofa back, smiling: “So, why do you come to the provincial team during the off-season? Better rest and take on some commercial performances for extra income. Why run to the provincial team?”

Whether it was a psychological effect or not, Dong Xiaolong felt that the insect sounds outside became more urgent.

He silently criticized these two people. Are they still the same as before, giving off an oppressive “I’m not easy to deal with” feeling?

After a moment of silence, Dong Xiaolong spoke truthfully: “It’s nothing major. My meniscus wear is getting worse, so I came to check on Zhang Jue.”

He came to the provincial team as a temporary pillar of the national team’s men’s singles to see the future pillar everyone expected, and he was curious about what this young genius looked like. Until now, Dong Xiaolong’s initial impression of Zhang Jue was a cute little rascal, and just looking at him was endearing. After meeting him once, Dong Xiaolong developed a favorable impression. No wonder this kid gained the love of many figure skating fans in just one season.

Zhang Junbao, however, said: “Oh, that kid? He’s not as good as you. He hasn’t grown to the point where he can shoulder the responsibility. You probably have to hold on for a few more years.”

Dong Xiaolong was stunned. He frowned and unconsciously advised: ” Senior Zhang, you don’t need to be too strict with Zhang Jue. I think he’s already excellent. In terms of skills, currently, there’s no men’s single skater better than him in the country. Let’s be fair, he’s better than me.”

Please don’t downgrade such an excellent kid just to save face for me. Zhang Jue is truly outstanding on the ice. Look at that row of medals on the shelf; they are all earned through the child’s hard work.

However, Shen Liu added: “It’s not about skills, as an athlete, he’s not as good as you.”

Both coaches felt that Zhang Jue wasn’t ready yet, leaving Dong Xiaolong confused. If Zhang Jue, who is already so outstanding, is not ready, what’s the story with these two coaches?

Shen Liu and Zhang Junbao exchanged glances, both showing a hint of helplessness.

Yes, the whole world thought Zhang Jue was already very strong. They were hesitant to discuss this matter, but facing the junior who was currently carrying the burden of men’s singles, Zhang Junbao still spoke the truth.

“So, let me put it this way, figure skating is like a wife to people like us. We are willing to go through thick and thin for this wife. But for Zhang Jue, figure skating is at most like a girlfriend he’s growing fond of.”

Dong Xiaolong was taken aback: “Uh, Senior, this analogy of yours…”

After a while, why did he suddenly feel that Zhang Junbao’s analogy was quite appropriate?!

Dong Xiaolong, the substitute big brother, suddenly realized that over the years, he seemed to have indeed treated figure skating as his wife. Due to excessive obsession with skating, he didn’t even have a girlfriend.

He fell into a strange state of reverie.

Shen Liu added: “Moreover, Zhang Jue not only has figure skating as a girlfriend but also ballet and vocal as backup lovers. In case he breaks up with figure skating someday, the backup lovers can take over. His parents have even arranged a fiancée for him to study. Most importantly, Zhang Jue himself enjoys this status and doesn’t seem to plan on taking his relationship with figure skating to the next level.”

Zhang Jue really enjoyed figure skating, but he didn’t have the desire to skate for a long time.

He would diligently train according to the coach’s requirements and control his diet, but he completely lacked the awareness of taking care of his body that athletes aspiring for a long skating career would have. He would enthusiastically engage in sports like playing soccer, which might result in injuries with a single misstep. Just the other day, he even climbed a pear tree, picking flowers amid the blooming snow pear blossoms.

In the midst of the snow-like pear blossoms, the elf-like handsome youth held large bunches of pure white flowers, resembling a fairy, graceful and charming.

Behind such a beautiful scene, Zhang Jue, who climbed the tree, didn’t consider what would happen if he fell. He didn’t see anything wrong with it, but his uncle, Zhang Junbao, understood something.

It seemed like this child was temporarily staying in this sport for his own hobby and others’ expectations, but he knew from the beginning that he would eventually leave.

However, if it were Zhang Junbao, Shen Liu, or Dong Xiaolong, even though they knew they would eventually leave, as long as that day didn’t really come, they would skate as much as possible.

This was their fundamental difference in nature. Correspondingly, Zhang Jue, with this mindset, couldn’t shoulder the responsibility of being the “big brother.” He lacked that sense of responsibility.

The conversation was interrupted by Song Cheng.

The head coach of H province watched Dong Xiaolong, who went home to visit his family, immediately approached, patting his shoulder and massaging his head. Then, affectionately, he took him to the cafeteria and got a plate of honey pineapple slices as a snack, then took him to see the training of the provincial team’s kids.

After a nap, Zhang Jue tied small braids and started with physical training, followed by jumps.

Dong Xiaolong watched for a while and found that Zhang Jue lived up to the nickname of the “world’s fastest rotation party.” He jumped lightly and crisply, with a high speed in the air that Dong Xiaolong could only admire.

He praised: “His jump rhythm is very good, and this 3A+3lo is impressive. How did you come up with the idea of having him practice such an extraterrestrial difficulty in combination jumps?”

When Zhang Jue heard this while drinking water by the boards after completing a set of jumps, he quickly explained: “Big Brother Xiaolong, don’t misunderstand. The success rate of my 3A+3lo is only about thirty percent. Today, my condition is good, but on bad days, I end up rolling all over the floor.”

The child gestured: “Let me give you an analogy. It’s like my relationship with 3lz+3lo has improved recently. I can jump it more steadily under normal conditions. But 3A+3lo is like a baby, its mood is unpredictable. Today it might give me a good face, but tomorrow it might cry and kick me while I’m down.”

Dong Xiaolong nodded calmly on the surface, but in his heart, he wondered why this kid’s way of speaking sounded so familiar.

Later on, he discovered that, besides his daily practice of 4S, Zhang Jue actually tried a few 4Ts. However, just like his daily 4S practice was limited to 20, he was only allowed to attempt 10 4Ts. Since Zhang Jue’s talent for toe jumps wasn’t as exceptional as Axel jumps, his attempts at the Quad Toe Loop were just for fun.

After watching for a while, Dong Xiaolong understood something.

When Zhang Jue jumped the 4T, it seemed like he didn’t have a determined attitude to complete it. Instead, it gave him a strong sense of addiction, as if the child was simply jumping for his own enjoyment.

In Zhang Jue, there was no determination of “even if I get injured, I must overcome this jump.” Instead, there was a cheerful attitude of “if I can jump it, that’s good; if I can’t, it’s okay.”

While this mindset was good in reducing psychological pressure on Zhang Jue, an athlete without pressure was already a problem in itself.

Before leaving the provincial team, Shen Liu once again said to him: “Xiaolong, you have to continue holding on until Zhang Jue grows up.”

After hesitating for a while, Dong Xiaolong asked: “How do you plan to change Zhang Jue’s mindset?”

Zhang Junbao and Shen Liu responded in unison: “Let it happen naturally.”

Dong Xiaolong: “Huh?”

Although it sounded unreliable, letting it happen naturally was the only way for the two coaches to deal with Zhang Jue’s mindset.

After all, Zhang Jue was only 13 years old, and expecting a child of this age to have the consciousness of “I will carry this project on my shoulders in the future” was asking too much.

So far, figure skating could give Zhang Jue what vocal and ballet couldn’t. They couldn’t put him in the spotlight on the world stage. Therefore, backup options could only be backups.

With age, Zhang Junbao believed that Zhang Jue would eventually realize who his true love was and elevate that true love to the position of a wife.

Anyway, there was still plenty of time, and they all had the patience to wait for Zhang Jue to grow up.

After leaving the provincial team, Dong Xiaolong’s second stop was his mentor, Coach Lu’s home.

This 70-year-old gentleman had already begun to enjoy his retirement. When Dong Xiaolong arrived with a bottle of Coach Lu’s favorite wine, the person who opened the door was Coach Lu’s spouse.

Seeing the disciple visiting the teacher, the teacher was undoubtedly delighted. As the mentor’s wife welcomed him in, she cheerfully said: “Oh, you’re here. Why bring alcohol? But since you’re here, it’s perfect. The old man bought a computer, but there are some things he doesn’t know how to handle. You young people understand more. Help him take a look.”

Dong Xiaolong changed into slippers and followed the mentor’s wife’s suggestion into the study. There, he saw a chubby old man with white hair, wearing reading glasses, earnestly manipulating the mouse. There was a small speaker next to the computer, playing the sound of “The Nutcracker.”

The old man looked up with a poker face, just lifting his chin a bit. “Come and take a look at how to make this video loop.”

Dong Xiaolong respectfully agreed, approached to assist, and unsurprisingly found that the computer was playing Zhang Jue’s free skate at the World Junior Championships.

He smirked: “Coach, Zhang Jue did quite well in this Junior Worlds.”

Coach Lu pondered for a moment. “Hmm, with his current abilities and age, this performance is acceptable, but he’s reached his limit.”

Dong Xiaolong was puzzled: “Limit?”

He thought, with Zhang Jue’s exceptional talent, being able to execute the first quadruple jump at the age of 13, it would probably not be a problem for him to master the second, third, or even fourth in the future. How could he have reached his limit already?

Coach Lu didn’t elaborate on why Zhang Jue had reached his limit; he just looked somewhat melancholic: “He is both a success and a failure of talent.”

In the old coach’s memory, Zhang Jue’s talent was unprecedented. When he coached Zhang Jue for only a month, he was convinced that he had encountered a seedling destined to become a world champion.

The feeling was too astonishing, like a sixty-year-old farmer who had toiled in the fields for 30 years suddenly stumbling upon a 100-kilogram gold nugget in the soil.

However, precisely because of his exceptional talent, many difficult moves could be accomplished effortlessly, relying solely on his innate abilities. In his early years, Zhang Jue had no patience for training, only wanting to challenge more difficult moves with all his might.

His talent made him unconsciously arrogant.

He didn’t like being lectured, once the coach started talking, he would immediately drift into his own world, responding with “uh-huh” while secretly planning to do as he pleased next time.

Coach Lu didn’t want to see such a promising talent go to waste so he forced Zhang Jue to polish his basics, but this stubborn kid hadn’t completed his foundation before switching to ballet.

Four empty years were too long. Even the originally good foundation would be eroded by time. Although Zhang Jue had been training for over a year before the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, the displacement in the Y-turns was still evident in his Swan Spin. While his skating seemed graceful and elegant due to the high sliding speed, there were underlying flaws when using the blade, and that was the problem.

Additionally, among athletes, it’s challenging to balance strength and flexibility. Zhang Jue seemed to be a typical flexible type with inadequate strength, and unfortunately, his technical flaws were substantial. After completing the 3Lz as a point jump, he often lacked the energy to follow up with a 3Lo. Trying to force it might lead to injury.

Shen Liu could only perform the 4T, he couldn’t teach Zhang Jue the 4S. Zhang Jue’s innate talent for jumps ranked among the top three in figure skating history. Add his lightweight body and high spinning speed, and he unexpectedly executed the 4S. Even his coach didn’t expect him to reach such an extraordinary level, but this was his limit.

He absolutely couldn’t master other quadruple jumps, and if, in the future, his body weight increased significantly during puberty, he would have to abandon the 4S as well.

Relying on over 30 years of coaching experience in figure skating, Coach Lu judged that unless Zhang Jue experienced a sudden growth spurt in height and muscle during puberty, compensating for his strength deficiency, there might still be hope for him to complete the 4T. Otherwise, the 4S was Zhang Jue’s limit.

However, the old coach was also cautious. He felt that all his current judgments were personal speculations and might not necessarily reflect the truth.

It had been a long time since he had seen that kid. Zhang Jue’s actual situation might not be as he imagined. Moreover, the four years of ballet training were not entirely detrimental. The boy, who always sought to attempt more challenging jumps, had developed exceptional artistic expression due to his dance foundation.

Most importantly, Zhang Jue was still young and healthy. For athletes, these were their greatest assets, and he had an unlimited future to look forward to.



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