Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Zhang Dan: Body, Mind, Spirit Champion

TORINO, Italy, February, 2006: Representing China, at the Winter Olympic Games, Zhang Dan and her partner, Zhang Hao, stepped onto the ice for their free-skate performance. They ranked second after their dazzling performance in the short program, and since the pair skated last, the silver and bronze medals were still very much in play. The young couple’s skating is punched by their power, speed, and grace. The Zhangs (they are not related) are famous for their quadruple twist, a very difficult maneuver during which Hao spins Dan four times as her body is almost horizontal and parallel to the ice.

A few seconds into their program, they attempted something never before tried in Olympic competition: an unprecedented quadruple-throw salchow, in which the man throws his partner into the air as she launches from the back edge of her skates, spins four times and lands gracefully on the ice. As the crowd gasped, Zhang Dan missed the graceful landing. She crashed, her left knee slammed into the ice and her legs splayed out. Dan spun across the ice and rammed into the sideboards surrounding the rink.

Visibly stunned and doubled over in pain, Dan struggled to her feet with her partner’s help. Hao held her gently from behind, as they glided to the sidelines, seemingly finished. Five minutes later, after consulting with coaches, a medic, and officials, 20-year-old Dan gingerly returned to the ice. The crowd roared and she even managed a timid smile. The pair continued their performance to the thundering applause of the crowd.

No one could have expected much from Zhang and Zhang after such a shocking accident. I can’t imagine what high demands are placed on all the elite Chinese athletes, or what Dan’s life has been like to create this kind of sheer willpower. "We are challenging the extreme limits of what a human being can do," said Zhang Dan. "We were still empty in our minds. When the music started again we didn't know where to start our elements, but we gave a gesture and then we carried on.” Hao added, “Gradually after we restarted, it became more clear in our minds how we could continue.”

Following a display of bravery seldom seen on an ice rink, the Zhangs began again and nailed every move. Four minutes later, the entire crowd was standing and cheering their effort, which gave them second place and China's first-ever Olympic figure skating silver medal. By the time they came out to receive their medals, Dan's left leg was heavily iced and bandaged. The plucky skater, however, limped a victory lap around the rink to still more applause.

Through training and sheer will Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao mastered their physical intelligences. They were ambassadors representing the four qualities that make up this vital IQ: Strength, Flexibility, Grace and Bearing.

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