|Peng Cheng (left) and Wang Lei perform during the gala show of the Cup of China in Chongqing on Sunday. The pair finished third in their ISU Grand Prix debut on Saturday. [Xinhua]|
CHONGQING — Chinese figure skater Peng Cheng produced an exquisite comeback to top-class competition at the Cup of China over the weekend.
Skating with her new partner Wang Lei for the first time at an ISU Grand Prix meet, the three-time Olympian claimed bronze with Wang. They scored 62.91 points in the pairs short program, 115.15 in the free skate and 178.06 overall, finishing 23 points behind eventual champions Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps of Canada.
"We're still trying to tune up, especially on our side-by-side jumps. We know we're not good enough yet together, but we're working on it and keep improving," said Wang, who previously paired with Wang Xuehan to win the 2015-16 national championships.
"On a scale of one to 100, I think we score 60 to 70 points now," Peng said. "Elite sport is an uphill battle, and we'll keep moving forward."
The 26-year-old Peng has already amassed a wealth of elite-level experience. She paired with Olympic silver medalist Zhang Hao to finish eighth at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the age of 16, before hitting the Olympic rinks again at Pyeongchang 2018 and Beijing 2022.
After finishing fifth in her home Olympics with Jin Yang, Peng skipped the 2022 world championships and the whole 2022-23 season before her Beijing club announced in June that she had parted ways with 29-year-old Jin, ending their seven-year linkup on the ice.
Now, with new partner Wang by her side, the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics are on the horizon.
"The first thing we confirmed with each other was that we were on the same page when talking about the future. We both wanted to take the next step on our respective career paths. In one word, Milan! We want to be there as competitors representing China," Peng said.
The 35-year-old Wang jumped at the chance to try and reach his first Olympics.
"Absolutely! To compete at the Olympics has been my dream, and when Peng asked whether I'd be interested in pairing up with her for another try, I said why not. I'd like to go all out for that," he said.
"When you and your skating partner are looking in the same direction, everything else goes smoothly," Peng added. "We work hard together, overcome the difficulties of being a new pairing, and handle all the pressures both mentally and technically, which makes the training easier and the injuries less painful."
Jin Boyang and Zhu Yi, both Chinese Olympians at Beijing 2022, also made their ISU Grand Prix comeback at the Cup of China after more than a year-long absence from competitive figure skating, mainly due to injuries.
"I think the best me is back. I feel even better than my 18-year-old self, standing in the rink here today with a stronger mindset, knowing definitely what I want and what I should do," said the 26-year-old Jin.
The two-time world championship bronze medalist finished seventh in Chongqing, scoring 87.44 points in the short program and 149.84 points in the free skate for a total of 237.28. The previous weekend, he began his season with an eighth-place finish at the Grand Prix de France.
"Love for the sport and persistence are the biggest motivations. And I've loved figure skating my whole life. That's why I'm still hanging in there," added Jin, whose fourth-place finish at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games was the best Olympic result by a male Chinese figure skater. Four years later, he finished ninth at Beijing 2022.
Zhu, a sophomore of Peking University, placed 10th in the field of 11 women.
"I'm enjoying life, despite being busy with both my academic pursuits and competition," Zhu said.
The Cup of China was the fourth of six events in the ISU Grand Prix Series, which will culminate in the 2023-24 GP Final in Beijing next month.
Earlier in the year, China's Olympic pair champion Han Cong announced he would be skipping all competitions of the current Olympic cycle because of injury, meaning the 31-year-old and his 28-year-old partner Sui Wenjing will not be able to defend their Olympic title in 2026.
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