Widely referred to as the "Butterfly on Ice," for her elegant and breathtaking movements while skating, Chen Lu became the first Chinese figure skater to win a world championship in 1995. She also won the bronze medal during both the 1994 Lillehammer (Norway) Winter Olympics and the 1998 Nagano (Japan) Winter Olympics. Although she retired from China's figure skating team in 1998, Chen has never stopped trying to help the world appreciate the beauty of figure skating. During the past 10-plus years, she has put much effort into both cultivating young figure skaters and helping people better understand ice sports.
Close bond with ice
Chen was born into an athlete's family in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin province, in 1976. Sports have been in her blood since she was young; her father, Chen Xiqin, was involved with ice hockey, and her mother, Cui Yan, competed in table tennis. When she was a little girl, Chen Lu enjoyed playing on the rink near her home. At age 4, her parents sent her to Nanguan (a district in Changchun)'s amateur sports school to learn how to skate, for exercise, so she could stay fit and beautiful. Between the ages of 6 and 11, Chen Lu out jumped almost all of her rivals during the annual Jilin Provincial Children's Skating Competition. She won the first of her 10 Chinese national championships in 1989 shortly after her 13th birthday.
Chen Lu is grateful for her father, who has helped her improve her skating skills over the years. When Chen Lu was young, her father watched her skate every day. He also took notes from books on figure skating skills, and he edited videos of the world's top skaters, to help Chen Lu hone her skating skills.
'Gliding' to world title
As a young skater, during the early 1990s, Chen Lu demonstrated both athletic and artistic potential. Despite her early success in her career, she often appeared timid when she faced contestants (from European and American countries) during international sports events. However, the slim, Chinese girl impressed the world with her outstanding performances. For example, she finished third during the 1991 World Junior Figure Skating Championships (in Budapest, capital of Hungary). Chen Lu's bronze medal (for ladies' figure skating singles) was China's first medal in figure skating during the world championships. She was 14 at that time. She also won bronze during the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. It was the first time a Chinese figure skater received a medal during a winter Olympics.
Chen Lu reached the pinnacle of her career in 1995, when she won the 1995 World Figure Skating Championships (another first for a Chinese), held in Birmingham. Her wonderful performance during the ladies' figure skating singles earned her thunderous applause. Since then, she has been dubbed the "Ice Queen" by many Chinese.
However, life has not always been smooth sailing for Chen Lu. She met her "Waterloo" (disastrous defeat) during the 1997 World Figure Skating Championships, held in Lausanne, Switzerland. She was out of form during that competition, and she finished 25th after the short program. As a result, she did not qualify for the final free skate. But with encouragement from officials with China's Physical Culture and Sports Commission (now the General Administration of Sport of China), Chen Lu escaped that "dark valley" in her life.
She completed a successful comeback by winning the bronze medal during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Butterfly Love, her elegant, iconic figure skating performance (during the event), earned her the nickname "Butterfly on Ice." As a result, she became the first Asian woman to receive medals, in singles competition, during two winter Olympics.
Figure skating has been a lifelong career for Chen Lu. Shortly after she retired from China's figure skating team, in 1998, she began performing for a figure skating club in San Francisco (in the United States). During that time, Chen Lu learned both professional skating performing skills (from the club's performers) and how to properly manage a commercial rink. That laid a solid foundation for her future career — establishing skating clubs (in China), to share her skating skills and experiences with athletes and young sports fans.
During the next few years, Chen Lu moved several times, to various regions of the United States. In 2004, she sold her house and car in Maryland to return to China. A short time later, she was employed by a company to help run its commercial rinks in Shenzhen, a city in South China's Guangdong Province. At that time, the commercial rink was a new concept in China. Instead of enjoying an easy, comfortable life (in America), the strong-willed woman chose a path beset with difficulties. However, she has never regretted her decision.
Shortly after she quit her job with the Shenzhen company, in 2014, Chen Lu established skating clubs in Beijing, Shenzhen and several other regions of China. During the past few years, she has been promoting figure skating among Chinese, especially among young people. She has applied what she learned (in America) in coaching young amateur figure skaters, and in running the clubs.
"Figure skating is my beloved career. I'll make more of an effort to call on young people to take up skating, and from that I'll feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment … I'll try my best to promote skating events in my home country, to repay society for the care and assistance I have received," says Chen Lu.
Between 2004 and 2017, Chen Lu organized international skating tours in several of China's largest cities. She also led performers, from Shenzhen Aozhixing Ice Sports Consulting Co., Ltd., in an on-ice dance routine during the opening ceremony of the 13th National Winter Games, held in January 2016 in Urumqi, capital of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
In 2005, Chen Lu married Denis Petrov, a Russian figure skater who, with his partner, won the silver medal during the 1992 Albertville (France) Winter Olympics mixed pairs skating event. Chen and Petrov have two children, a son and a daughter. Their daughter, Anastasia Petrova, inherited her parents' athletic talent. The girl, now 11, has followed in her mother's footsteps. Anastasia won the championship during the Beijing Contest of the 2017 Asian Junior Figure Skating Challenge.
The Chen Lu International Skating Center has been in the spotlight since it opened, in Beijing, during the spring of 2017. The center not only provides training to sports fans, to help them improve their figure skating and ice hockey skills, but it also helps members of China's national figure skating team improve their professional skills. By 2019, she had opened centers in Dalian and Tianjin. Her center in Shenzhen is expected to open later this year.
On Christmas Eve, 2020, Chen Lu organized young trainees of her skating club (in Beijing) to perform, free of charge, to entertain children who suffer from cancer. Money and/or items (including books and study accessories) were also donated to the kids. "I hope the trainees will be ready to help others," she says.
Chen Lu and Petrov have seen rapid development in their careers (promoting figure skating among Chinese) since Beijing was selected (in July 2015) to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The Chinese Olympic Committee in September 2018 appointed Chen Lu head coach of the national figure skating training team. As a member of the Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympics, Chen is trying her best to cultivate skaters for the event. The Chen Lu International Skating Center will begin hosting sports events this year. The center will cultivate more promising young figure skaters. Chen Lu hopes more people will "fall in love" with skating, and that they will have a better understanding of skaters' excellence in sportsmanship.
Photos Supplied by Chen Lu
(Women of China English Monthly August 2021 issue)