After only skating for three years and at the age of seven, Stephanie Zhang was named to China's national figure skating team. Only two years later, the precocious young skater would move with her family at Australia and by thirteen, Australia offered her citizenship based on her skating talent. Her career on the ice not only saw her win two Australian national titles and six Australian junior titles but another four national medals as well. Stephanie represented Australia at the Four Continents and World Championships as well as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and 2002 Goodwill Games, and did so with big, consistent triple jumps and confidence galore. Perhaps most remarkable about her story is her return to competitive skating (and the national medal podium in Australia) after a TEN YEAR ABSENCE during the 2012/2013 competitive season. Stephanie took the time to talk about her skating career, return to the ice and what she's doing now in this wonderful interview:
Q: Born in China, you're a former member of China's national team but moved to Australia at a young age and started skating for Australia. What memories do you have of your childhood in China and what was moving to a new country like?
A: Where I am from (Harbin) has bitter cold winters so I will never forget that. Being a little girl at the time moving to Australia, to me it was a whole lot of new things and experience to take in. It was quite exciting and at the same time very scary especially with not being able to speak english.
Q: You have twice won Australia's National Championships (1999 and 2000) and have won Australia's junior title six times. After a ten year absence from the sport, you returned to competition last season and won your sixth medal at the senior level in your country. What did you do when you weren't skating competitively, what prompted you to decide to return to the sport and how hard was training to get in competitive form?
A: I never really gave up skating in my head for all those years. I just thought it would be a great self challenge to see if I still had got what it takes. Although it is extremely hard to be working a full time job and training at an elite level, after ten years off and barely skating during that time it took me three months to get all my triples back and it was in time for Nationals. Lots of sweat and no tears!
Q: What was going from competing under the 6.0 system to the new judging system like for you?
A: Personally I feel it's taken a bit of the athleticism out of the sport. In saying that, I'm aware everything is being judged in a more intriguing light. It certainly forces the skaters to improve their skills as a whole.
Q: You have competed at the Junior World Championships, Four Continents Championships, Goodwill Games, World Championships and in 2002 represented Australia at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. What are your favourite memory from these competitions and what did you love most about the Olympic experience?
A: I enjoyed each competitions in its own way, but I have to say I liked Junior Worlds because the skaters were more likely to be around the same age as me. With Worlds and other senior championships and even the Olympics, at the time it was a bit overwhelming competing with all my skating idols. It was such an honor to be skating for Australia at the Olympics, a country I've lived in most my life now. You should come and visit!
Q: Will we see you competing next season?
A: I am not sure if I have enough time to be training and working full time this year.
Q: In what area has your skating most improved over the off season?
A: I am not sure about improving but I do feel that I enjoy the sport a lot more than while I was younger. It wasn't always about winning competitions this time around.
Q: When it comes to other skaters, who is your role model in the sport?
A: Michelle Kwan. No doubt!
Q: In 2007, the fatal crash of the Merinda near the Sydney Harbor Bridge claimed the lives of four members of Australia's figure skating community and injured two others. What kind of an impact did this accident leave on the skating community?
A: It was and is a very sad tragedy. I know all of the members involved on a personal level so it was hard for me.
Q: What is one thing about you most people don't know?
A: I'm constantly eating food!
Q: What are three things you most want to do in life that you haven't yet - three things on your "bucket list"?
A: To learn how to fly a plane, to own an ice rink in my back yard and to learn to surf.
Q: What do you enjoy most about skating?
A: Since I start skating at a very young age, it's now imprinted in my DNA! I feel lost if I don't do something skating related in my life. So now, I'm also a coach and hoping to pass on my knowledge to the younger generation of skaters. Skating gives you the arena to freely express yourself and that's what I love the most.
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