Golden couple carry China’s Winter Olympics hopes

Sui Wenjing, left, and Han Cong of China performing during the pairs free skating figure skating event at the NHK Trophy in Osaka, which they eventually won. (AFP)
Updated 30 January 2018

Golden couple carry China’s Winter Olympics hopes

SHANGHAI: Figure skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong have weathered injury, controversy and rampant speculation about their personal lives. Now all that’s left is to deliver gold for China at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Plenty depends on the photogenic duo, who are the pairs world champions and Olympic favorites, as victory would go a long way toward igniting Chinese interest in winter sports before the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.
While China is a powerhouse of the Summer Games, they lag behind in winter sports — something they badly want to fix before Beijing becomes the host city in four years’ time.
Sui, 22, underwent such extensive surgery in 2016 that she had to re-learn how to stand, walk and skate. But after she returned to win the world title with Han, 25, last year, she is setting her sights high.
“In terms of the 2018 and 2022 Olympics, since we have won the world championship, our goal is to be Olympic champions,” Sui said, after they topped the podium at the worlds in Helsinki last March.
“The only thing standing in our way is ourselves.”
It’s a bold statement, but Sui’s confidence is not unfounded.
In November alone, the duo won the Cup of China and the NHK Trophy in Japan back-to-back, and then triumphed in Shanghai to add to their bulging medal haul.
Last year they also took gold at the Four Continents Championships at South Korea’s Gangneung — the same venue that will be used for the Olympics.
Sui and Han’s chemistry on the ice has sparked rumors online and in Chinese media that they are romantically involved, but they laugh off the gossip.
“Han Cong and I are only a couple on screen, not in real life,” Sui wrote on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, addressing the frequent rumors.
“We are friends or like a Dad and daughter.”
Sui and Han’s ascension to the top of figure skating pairs has had its challenges, and controversies.
In 2016, Sui missed nine months after operations on her right ankle and left foot, and was bed-ridden for three months, unable to even stand.
Her brave recovery made last year’s world championship victory all the more remarkable — and emotional.
As the aptly named “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel came to a rousing denouement in their winning routine, Sui and Han gripped one another in a tight embrace, trembling and fighting back tears — and setting more tongues wagging about the nature of their relationship.
“It was a very moving performance and I think the audience could feel our emotion and our story in this program,” Han said afterwards.
“We have been through many, many difficult things. I hope Sui can stay healthy.”
Reviving those fears in the lead-up to Pyeongchang, the pair pulled out of the January 22-27 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Taipei after Sui picked up a minor shin injury.
China’s figure skating association called it a precautionary move.
Both from Harbin, in China’s far north, Sui and Han paired together a decade ago.
But they and China were accused of flouting the rules in 2011 over apparent discrepancies in their ages which suggested that they were ineligible to take part in the junior world championships in 2010, which they won.
Chinese officials said they had made a mistake about their ages, blaming poor record-keeping.


Coronavirus forces Wimbledon cancelation for 1st time since WWII

Updated 01 April 2020

Coronavirus forces Wimbledon cancelation for 1st time since WWII

  • Wimbledon champion Roger Federer tweeted one word: “Devastated”
  • The prestigious tournament joins the growing list of major sports events called off in 2020 because of the Covid-19 outbreak

LONDON: For the first time in its nearly century-and-a-half history, Wimbledon was canceled for a reason other than war, scrapped in 2020 on Wednesday because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With Britain under a nationwide lockdown, the All England Club announced its decision to call off its storied two-week grass-court tennis tournament, something that hadn’t happened to the sport’s oldest Grand Slam event in 75 years.
“It has weighed heavily on our minds that the staging of The Championships has only been interrupted previously by World Wars,” club chairman Ian Hewitt said, “but, following thorough and extensive consideration of all scenarios, we believe that it is a measure of this global crisis that it is ultimately the right decision to cancel this year’s Championships, and instead concentrate on how we can use the breadth of Wimbledon’s resources to help those in our local communities and beyond.”
Wimbledon was scheduled to be played on the outskirts of London from June 29 to July 12. Instead, the next edition of the tournament will be June 28 to July 11, 2021.
Eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer surely spoke for many tennis players, officials and fans with a one-word message on Twitter: “Devastated.”


Also Wednesday, the ATP and WTA announced that the men’s and women’s professional tours would be suspended until at least July 13, bringing the number of elite tennis tournaments affected by the new coronavirus since early March to more than 30. The top tours already had been on hold through June 7. Lower-level events on the Challenger Tour and ITF World Tennis Tour also are called off for the first two weeks of July now.
Wimbledon first was held in 1877 and has been contested every year since, with the exception of two stretches: from 1915-18 because of World War I, and from 1940-45 because of World War II.
Now the prestigious tournament — known for its carefully manicured grass, its Royal Box at Center Court, its rules about wearing white, its strawberries and cream and, alas, its rain delays — joins the growing list of major sports events called off in 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
That includes the Tokyo Olympics — which have been pushed back 12 months — and the NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments.
Wimbledon is the first Grand Slam tournament wiped out because of the coronavirus; the start of the French Open was postponed from late May to late September.
Shortly after the news came from Wimbledon, the US Tennis Association issued a statement saying it “still plans to host the US Open as scheduled,” from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 in New York.
As of now, the French Open is set to begin six days after the men’s final at Flushing Meadows, where a facility housing indoor practice courts is now a temporary 350-bed hospital and Louis Armstrong Stadium is being used to prepare 25,000 meal packages per day for patients, workers, volunteers and schoolchildren in the city.
Wednesday’s decision by the All England Club means Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep will not get a chance to defend their Wimbledon titles from 2019.
“We are going through something bigger than tennis and Wimbledon will be back!” Halep wrote on social media. “And it means I have even longer to look forward to defending my title.”
Serena Williams retweeted the club’s message about the cancelation and wrote: “I’m Shooked.”
The move takes away what might have been one of Federer’s best chances to try to add to his men’s-record 20 Grand Slam titles. Federer, who turns 39 in August, is recovering from knee surgery and planned to return in time for the European grass-court circuit that now has been erased from the calendar.
In a statement last week, the All England Club said that postponing the two-week event would not come “without significant risk and difficulty” because of the grass surface that is affected by weather conditions. The club also said then that it had ruled out “playing behind closed doors” without spectators.
Hundreds of thousands of people have caught COVID-19 around the globe, and tens of thousands have died. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough, but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization.
The All England Club said it would work to help with the emergency response to the pandemic, including distributing medical equipment and food and offering the use of their facilities in other ways.
Regular day-to-day life has come to a halt in many ways in many parts of the world in recent weeks, and sports has reflected that.
The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball are on hold indefinitely; the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500 were pushed back several months until September; England’s Premier League and other club soccer competitions are currently suspended; and the European soccer championship — scheduled to end in London on the same day as the Wimbledon men’s final — was postponed from 2020 to 2021.
“I have been fortunate to go to Wimbledon every year since 1961, and I am certainly going to miss it this year,” said Billie Jean King, who won a total of 20 trophies at the All England Club — six for singles, 10 for women’s doubles, four for mixed doubles. “Right now, we need to make sure we are taking good care of ourselves and our loved ones. These are challenging times for all of us and now is the time for us to do what is right for our world and what works for our sport.”