Peng Cheng (left) and Zhang Hao of China perform during the pairs free skate at the Trophee Bompard in Paris on Friday.
VETERAN Chinese star Zhang Hao rekindled the flame on a career he thought was over on the ice of Paris-Bercy on Friday.
The 28-year-old from Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, won an Olympic pairs silver medal in 2006 and multiple world medals during his 14-year career with long-time partner Zhang Dan before she was forced to call time on her career last season.
But Zhang turned the clock back on the ice at the Trophee Bompard in Paris when he and his new 15-year-old partner Peng Cheng found themselves in line to pick up a medal in just their second Grand Prix event together.
Zhang and Peng's short program to Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" put them third behind Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov and Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford going into the free skating final.
"It's been a year since I've been in a press conference," said Zhang, who placed fifth with Peng in their season debut at the Cup of China. "We didn't really expect today's result. We're still a very new team. In tomorrow's performance we hope to do even better than today."
Zhang explained how he had not been ready to give up on his dream of skating.
"My old partner had injuries and she was forced to retire. I wanted to continue, I really still felt the fire, so I started looking for a new partner with my coach," he said.
"I was very pleased to find Cheng. She's also from Harbin which is my home city."
Peng admitted that she had initially felt intimidated skating with such a star as Zhang.
"When I started out I felt nervous and a little pressure because he's a famous athlete," she explained. "But he helped me a lot and now I feel very comfortable skating with him."
The pairs title has been thrown wide open after four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the overwhelming favorites from Germany, withdrew with Savchenko suffering from a bad sinus infection.
Japanese-born Kavaguti and Smirnov, runners-up in the Cup of China, lead the way with 66.78 points, as they close in on a spot in the ISU Grand Prix final in 2014 Winter Olympic host city Sochi next month.
Duhamel and Radford, also in the running for the GP final after their silver in Skate Canada, are second on 62.28 despite Duhamel falling on a throw triple lutz. Peng and Zhang scored 59.92.