Shen, Zhao claim China''s first figure skating gold

VANCOUVER: Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo gave China their first ever Olympic figure skating title when they won gold in the pairs event in Vancouver while ending Russia''s 50-year domination of the event.

The husband-and-wife team led a Chinese 1-2 ahead of teammates Pang Qing and Tong Jian with Germany''s reigning two-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy taking bronze after the free skating final on Monday.

It was the first time since 1960 that a pair from Russia or the former Soviet Union have not taken the gold.

Shen, 31, and Zhao, 36, had returned after retiring for two years in their bid to claim gold after winning bronze at the past two Olympics.

And although they had a less than perfect programme to Adagio in G Minor by Tomaso Albinoni it was enough to seal victory by a 3.26 margin on Pang and Tong.

"We''ve had this dream for many, many years," said three-time world champion Zhao. "We''ve won other titles and every time we heard the national anthem and the raising of the flag we wished it was the Olympic Games."

Concerning the end of Russia''s domination, he added: "Records are there to be broken at some point."

Shen and Zhao faced a tense wait to see if they had secured the title following a stunning free skate by Pang and Tong which gave them a new world record mark of 141.81 in the free skate.

Tong, 30, kissed the ice after earning a standing ovation for a routine to the music Impossible Dream by Joe Hisaishi which saw the 2006 world champions surge from fourth. The scored 213.31 overall.

"I don''t know what got into me when I kissed the ice," said Tong.

"All the spectators gave us the power and courage to put out a complete and perfect programme."

Shen and Zhao took to the ice next and could only applaud the performance.

"We saw them finish their programme and it was excellent," said Shen.

"I just thought ''now it''s my turn to finish in the best way I can''. I knew I had to remain focused and execute every element in the finest way possible."

They placed second in the free skate after a shaky Axel lasso lift but it was enough for the veteran pair to secure victory with 139.91 which gave them a new world record overall mark of 216.57.

As for their future plans, Shen quipped: "It''s hard to continue skating, maybe it''s time to have a baby."

The Germans dropped to third after Szolkowy fell on a double axel, giving them 134.64 for the programme and 210.60 overall.

"I think it was the pressure that built up that was on my mind," said Szolkowy. "Our performance was not the one we wanted to show."

Russia''s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, third after the short programme, dropped to fourth after Kavaguti fell.

A fall also pushed Olympic silver medallists Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China into fifth.