Action on ice heats up

About a year ago, China's winter sports athletes claimed a record of five gold medals, two silver and four bronze at the Vancouver Winter Games.

In the new four-year cycle of Olympic preparation, those athletes will be taking to the ice and snow again as the world championships for short track speed skating, curling and figure skating will be held one after the other; starting this weekend.

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China's Olympic silver medal pair of Pang Qing and Tong Jian will lead the nation's figure skating squad after the retirement of Olympic champion pair Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo.

Love birds lead figure skating squad

China's Olympic silver medal pair of Pang Qing and Tong Jian has a heavy agenda at the Tokyo World Championships as it not only includes defending its title, but also the prospect of a marriage proposal.

Four years ago, at the 2007 World Championships, also in Tokyo, Pang and Tong's older teammate Zhao Hongbo knelt down to propose to his partner, Shen Xue, after they claimed their third World Championship title.

Tong thought of emulating that after the Four Continents Championships final last month, at which he and Pang won gold, but a mistake by Tong in the free-skating competition curbed his romantic zeal.

"It was a great regret today, because I missed the chance to show my real heart to Pang due to a poor performance," Tong wrote in micro-blog after the final.

The World Championships provide another opportunity for Tong to pop the question, but the 31-year-old is now keeping things low key.

"I haven't prepared for that," Tong said.

With Shen and Zhao retiring from competition after winning China its first figure skating gold medal in Vancouver, Pang and Tong, who declared their love for each other after the Vancouver Olympics, are the country's only gold medal hopefuls at the worlds, which will be held from March 21-27.

To achieve that goal, the pair has to face the challenge from its archrival, Germany's two-time world champion pair of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, which beat them at the Grand Prix final this season.

"Our aim is to earn the gold medal in Tokyo, although it will be difficult," Tong told China Daily.

Olympic curling team's slow start

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The Chinese women's curling team surprised the world by claiming the bronze medal at the Vancouver Games last year. However, the team is cautious about its chances at the World Championships, which will be held in Esbjerg, Denmark, from March 18-27.

"We will send the same women's team as it was at the Olympics for the worlds this time. We want to accumulate more experience for the team," Manager Li Dongyan told China Daily. "Our women's team is aiming for a top-eight finish."

After the Vancouver Games, some of the members of the women's team stopped training temporarily and went to study at home and abroad. In preparation for the upcoming World Championships, the team gathered only half a month ago.

"The team is now training in Changchun and will leave for the worlds on March 15," said Li.

The Curling World Championships will feature 12 teams; nine of which have won the title before.

China claimed the crown in 2009, but fell to the seventh at the 2010 worlds.

Young crew for short track

A young team of short track speed skaters will facie the world's best in Sheffield, England, this weekend.

The team will be without Olympic champion Wang Meng and Zhou Yang. Wang is studying in the United States while Zhou withdrew from the worlds due to poor physical condition.

Zhang Hui is the only female member of the 10-member team who competed at the Vancouver Games. On the men's side, three of the five have Olympic experience.

"Our goal at the World Championships is to test the new squad and raise its confidence," said Manager Wang Chunlu. "It's not important to earn gold medals, but to give the opportunity to practice. I hope they can show their fighting spirit."

Without Wang and Zhou, Asian Winter Games champion, Liu Qiuhong, will lead the women's charge against traditional rivals South Korea, Canada and the US.

Liu, who withdrew just days before the Vancouver Games due to an injury, is now ranked second in the women's 500m. Her task is to not only compete for gold, but also to help the less experienced members of the team.

"The pressure is motivation as well. I will try to do my best," Liu said before leaving for Sheffield.

Reigning 500m world champion Liang Wenhao will lead the men's side in England. The Chinese men's team is ranked second in the world standings. Racing for a relay gold is its goal.

(China Daily)