After a career that spanned two decades with three different partners, Chinese pairs skater Zhang Hao has officially retired.
Zhang, a native of Harbin, first hit the competitive circuit with Dan Zhang (no relation). In their international debut in 1998, they won the first of three Junior Grand Prix competitions in China, and would go on to claim two World Junior titles (2001 and 2003) and two Junior Grand Prix Final crowns in 2001 and 2002.
Zhang and Zhang had mixed success in the senior ranks. Though they won all six Grand Prix titles, they failed to stand atop the podium at any of the eight Grand Prix Final events they contested. The same scenario played out at nine consecutive World Championships where they had a trio of second-place finishes in 2006, 2008 and 2009, but were never able to capture a global crown.
Coached by the legendary Bin Yao, the duo competed at three consecutive Olympic Winter Games (2002, 2006 and 2010), finishing 11th in Salt Lake City, second in Torino and fifth in Vancouver. Many will remember the terrible fall Dan Zhang experienced at the 2006 Games and the courage she showed when, just minutes after crashing to the ice and headfirst into the boards on a quad throw Salchow attempt, she resumed the program despite an obvious injury to her left knee.
Though Zhang and Zhang were China’s top team in 2006, in the ensuing four-year cycle they were overtaken by Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao and Qing Pang and Jian Tong, who finished first and second, respectively, at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
When Dan retired at the end of the 2011-2012 season she and Hao had captured 37 medals over a decade in the senior ranks, making them the most decorated pairs team in figure skating history.
In the spring of 2012, Hao was teamed up with Cheng Peng, a 15-year-old with no international experience. That partnership did not turn out to be a winning one, with the duo finishing eighth at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and just one win to their credit at 2014 Cup of China.
At the end of the 2016 season, the Chinese Skating Association split a few of its pair teams and assigned them to new partnerships. Hao began skating with Yu Xiaoyu, the two-time World Junior champion with Yang Jin (2014 and 2015).
Yu and Hao found little success in the two seasons they competed on the international stages, and in the spring of 2018 both disappeared from the skating radar. Unconfirmed reports were both had suffered, and were recovering from, injuries. In September 2020 the end of their partnership was announced.
After graduating from Beijing Sport University, Hao, 36, remained on campus and now teaches at the School of Competitive Sports. “Due to injury, I officially chose to retire. But in order to promote ice and snow sports and continue to stick to the field I love, I decided to stay at my alma mater and join the ice and snow teaching and research section to teach students about figure skating and winter sports,” Hao explained.
“I have been practicing skating since I was a child, and now I take children to practice skating so that I can continue to stand on my beloved ice in another way, which can be regarded as making up for my regret.”
Hao is also the ice and snow sports consultant for the Lugouqiao Education Cluster in the Fengtai District where he established the Zhang Hao International Ice Sports Performance Center.
Though he regrets he will not be competing in the upcoming Games in Beijing, he said he feels a responsibility and obligation “to contribute to the Winter Olympics held on my doorstep. Turning my own experience into learning content that students like to accept, I also feel a sense of accomplishment.”
BIN YAO: A CHINESE DYNASTY