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China's Shen, Zhao finally skate to Olympic gold

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - For years, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo accepted their medals, respectfully watched China's flag be raised - and thought about another place, another time.

That place is Vancouver. That time is now.

The medal, finally, is gold.

"We've been in competitions for many years, and won other medals," Zhao said. "But every time we heard the national anthem and saw our flag being raised, we wished it was the Olympic Games. Today we've achieved our goal."

They achieved it with the poise, power and passion that only true champions can embody.

The two-time bronze medalists, who came out of retirement last year at the ages of 31 (Shen) 36 (Zhao), earned their nation's first Olympic figure skating gold Monday night. Their score of 216.57 points was more than three points ahead of teammates Pang Qing and Tong Jian, who won the free skate, but couldn't overcome being fourth in the short program the previous night.

Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy took the bronze and, for the first time since 1960, a Russian or Soviet couple did not skate off with pairs gold. Indeed, Russia was shut out.

China sure wasn't.

On a night filled with errors ranging from laughable to ludicrous, Shen and Zhao became the first pair to medal in three straight games since 1932.

After they finished the program with a majestic carry lift that circled half the ice, they detoured to the sideboards. While the crowd stood and saluted them waving Chinese flags - making it look more like the Beijing Olympics than the Vancouver Games - Zhao practically leaped over the boards to hug longtime coach Yao Bin.

"So many years have been devoted to this dream," Zhao said.

While it was a brilliant night for China, the Americans had their worst Olympic showing. Never before had the United States not had a pair finish at least seventh, but Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig wound up 10th. U.S. champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett came in 13th.

Still, both couples believe this is the start of something special for American pairs skating.

"I don't think the U.S. is in decline," said Barrett, who has been skating with Denney less than two years. "I think we made huge improvement in the last year, but we have a ways to go and it's something we'll keep working at."

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