Warning: Duhamel and Radford tackle quad throw Salchow

You have to see Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford these days to appreciate the change that has settled over them, now that they have the pressures of the Olympic season behind them.

They are not the same. Never will be the same again. They have lost the heaviness and the tightness in their skating, weighed down by pressures they didn’t even realized existed. They have wonderful programs this year. They skate with an ease and freedom and lightness. And what is truly remarkable about them is that they undertook to master the risky, rare throw quad Salchow at ages 29. How risky? Remember the 2003 world championships in Washington, D.C., when Xue Shen hurt herself in practice while attempting one? The ability of Shen and partner Hongbo Zhao to compete at all was in question, but in one of the most memorable efforts ever, they rose to the occasion to a screaming rink and a coach with tears running down his cheeks – and won.

There aren’t and haven’t been many throw quad Salchows around. There seem to have been more quad twists. Americans Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent get credit for landing the first throw quad (a Salchow) in competition: They did it at the 2007 Eric Bompard Trophy in France. Shen and Zhao had tried one at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, but she fell and the jump was not rotated.

(Ding Yang and Ren Zhongfei of China attempted a throw quad toe loop at Four Continents in 2004, but she landed the jump on two feet).

The champions of the throw quad Salchow have been Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, who have done more of them than anybody, probably at least 10. The formidable trick disappeared from their repertoire for a while, but after missing all of last season because of injury, Kavaguti and Smirnov emerged again at Nebelhorn Trophy earlier this season  – and landed a throw quad Salchow, although judges gave them a few minuses on execution. This is an element that Kavaguti and Smirnov did from the first year they competed together.

Kavaguti said she actually learned it from an American partner she had, Devin Patrick, who decided he’d rather live in the United States than Russia.

Chinese skaters Wenjing Sui and Cong Han did a quad throw Salchow at the 2012 Four Continents championships, but two-footed the throw. They dropped the trick last year.

And then along came Duhamel and Radford, two-time world bronze medalists. The intrepid Duhamel really wanted to do that throw quad Salchow four years ago, but coaches pointed her in other directions, probably fearful of the injury risk factor. But now, the quad throw is a huge motivator, something to look forward to each day they train. “It’s technically difficult and takes a lot of precision to do it,” Radford said. “But every time we do one, it’s like we can go home after that. It’s been a good day.”

Philosophically, Duhamel says everything happens for a reason: they didn’t do that quad before now because really, they weren’t mature enough psychologically. “We’re mature enough to handle something like that now,” she said. “We’re mature enough not to let it distract us from our skating and we love to practice it. “

They train it and skate their programs as if the quad throw isn’t the “be-all and end-all.” They make sure it is not their entire focus. If they missed it, they would still have a dynamic program. And when they take their opening position, Duhamel says she is not thinking about the quad: she is thinking about their first trick, the triple twist. “Now we’re able to do that,” she said. “In the past, we wouldn’t have.”

Radford says the quad is “it’s own little moment.” When they landed the quad at the Autumn Classic, Duhamel allowed herself a quick fist pump – she knew she wanted to – and moved on.

Funny, but their triple twist has improved too. It’s now popping higher. The timing is better. Everything is better, their chemistry, their unison, everything, even though they haven’t particularly worked on those things. It’s evolved. They have not reached a plateau. If they stopped improving, they would find it hard to push themselves. But they are improving. They are growing into themselves.

At Autumn Classic, Duhamel’s right hand grazed the ice on the landing of the quad. But their goal had just been to stand up on it, for their first effort in an international competition. They did more than that.

They also attempted it at a Quebec regional competition two weeks before the Autumn Classic and Duhamel took a hard fall on the quad. “We learn every time we do it,” Duhamel said. “After that competition, we haven’t missed it in a run through at home.”

How did they plan it? Originally, Radford wanted to train the quad in secret and unleash it to everybody’s surprise at an international competition. Their coaches persuaded then to let the world know on social media, for one thing, just in case nobody really realized it was a quad. They do it with such ease, it looks like a triple.

Was it a new tactic to make the competition tremble in their skating boots? they were asked in a conference call on Tuesday. “It really wasn’t our goal when we posted it to intimidate anybody else,” Radford said. “I guess it’s not such a bad thing. But we were just kind of proud of ourselves and wanted to show that we could do this new element. And just to show that we’re still improving and we’re still out there to win that world title. We’re still pushing our way to the top.”

Duhamel did some research, found that it takes eight weeks to make something a habit. She set a goal for herself, and wrote in her own agenda, to land it well within six weeks because “I figured I could be better than the average person.” This is the way winners think.

They mastered it within five weeks, finally nailing one perfectly. It had gradually improved over the days, from landing it on two feet, to putting a hand down for a couple of weeks, and then they hit that first one. Then they knew what it felt like. “Since then, we are able to repeat that feeling fairly consistently,” she said.

Their social media sites boomed after their win at the Autumn Classic. People sent them home videos of their quad. People have been buzzing. To Duhamel and Radford, the quad was all in a days’ work, something they do daily. Not a big deal.

“I’m genuinely surprised at how big a deal it has become,” Radford said. “It’s just one element in our program. It’s almost fun for us to go out there and do it. It has kind of caused this ripple in the skating world.”

Most cool reaction? After they won the Autumn Classic, Robin Szolkowy, in Barrie as a coach for a Russian team, came up to the Canadians and said: “Thank you.”

“A thank you for that performance and hitting that quad,” Radford said.  Every day at the rink when they land the quad, the people in the rink get excited too. “There is a lot of excitement around that element,” Duhamel said.

Duhamel and Radford are going to take us on a fun ride this season. Their attitude – winning isn’t their prime driver, but skating for the love of it is  – makes them particularly dangerous.

Fun bits at the Autumn Classic

Oh didn’t we have fun at the Autumn Classic today!

The fun bits:

Seeing Jeffrey Buttle working as the one-man Ice Bucket Brigade during resurfacing. Filling the holes with his bare hands. As the day wore on, people in the audience began to notice that it was him.

Up in the stands, Buttle watching Nam Nguyen perform his wonderful Sinnerman routine – and he skated it with him, his shoulders rolling at all the parts where shoulders should roll. It really is a masterpiece. One of those routines you don’t tire of seeing.

Ross Miner looking the best that perhaps he ever has. Huge, powerful split jumps. Generally, skating with power. Looking fit. Says he does three run-throughs a day. No biggie for him. Landed quad Salchow. A goodly 80 points to take the lead. He wants to put the year of ankle troubles behind him and get back on that U.S. podium that he missed last year. This looked to be a mighty good start. Get ready for his free program, to be skated to Andrea Bocelli, the hunky Italian singer. Lori Nichol choreographed this gem for him. Beautiful.

Ronald Lam. Ronald Lam! Having worked in obscurity in Coquitlam, B.C., all these years, Lam lies in second place in the men’s short after landing a quad-triple and if anybody didn’t see that coming, well, he’s been doing them for a while. Just not in an international venue like the Autumn Classic, which although it is a senior B, was well worth the watch. He’s still with the same coach, Bruno Delmaestro, that he’s had since he started skating – how many skaters can say that? – and he switched to skate for Hong Kong in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, but didn’t qualify. Interesting fact: he loved the Canadian championships. There was an atmosphere about it that made it addictive. It wasn’t just the event, but all of the prep beforehand, just thinking about it. He misses it. He’s studying computer science at university. He’s 23.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, skating their short program to highly inspiring music with a freedom and lightness of heart they’ve never had before. Duhamel missed a triple Lutz, and the jump had been messing with her since she came to Barrie, but the air of the entire performance almost made it seem unimportant, especially for this time of year. They are still easily in the lead.

The power of the Marie-France Dubreuil/Patrice Lauzon dance school in Montreal. Their skaters finished first and third in the short dance at the Autumn Classic – and they are from France and Spain. The French, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, showed up, looking more polished than ever (they had been 13th at worlds), while the Spanish team Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz, (16th at worlds) even delighted me at the Olympics.  And the Spanish had quite a cheering section. European champion Javier Fernandez was a spectator.

The new Canadian team of Natasha Purich and Drew Wolfe, together only five months, show worlds of promise.  It’s the right match. Purich was teamed up last year with Mervin Tran, who has traversed countries again and now skates with Maria Castelli from the United States. But in Wolfe, the delightful little Purich has found the right pair partner. They are buddies. They knew each other from having skated in Alberta. They like each other. She shines with him. She’s a bright penny, now.

And get this: Wolfe has skated dance for the past four or five seasons. He’s never done pairs before. He learned the pair skills at the speed of light, a natural. And he has the edges from his time in dance. And the two of them are in good hands, skating in the Richard Gauthier/Bruno Marcotte school. Suddenly, the pairs event in Canada has started to looking interesting.

Don’t forget about Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps, skating in only their second international event after winning the Canadian junior title last year. Grenier was a good singles skater who reached a plateau, and switched disciplines. Pair skating has brought back her joy in skating and it shows in her face when she skates. And she loves those scary elements.

And here’s another team. Although Julianne Seguin is skating singles at the Autumn Classic, she’s really making a name for herself as pair partner to Charlie Bilodeau. Together they swept both of their Junior Grand Prix events to qualify for the final quite easily. They are dynamic. Seguin, too, loves the lofty pair moves. Bring it on, she says. They will skate at the senior level nationally.

There are more to be sure, but it’s late, laptop problems scuttled my immediate reports and we’ll be back tomorrow to see how everything works out.

 

 

 

Orser coming home to Autumn Classic

The Calgary Olympic uniform that Brian Orser wore as flag bearer is still on display at the Allandale Recreation Centre in Barrie, Ont., where he trained for most of his career.

It’s Canada-red with white fringe that goes forever. So, it seems, does Orser. He walked into the Allandale Recreation Centre for the first Autumn Classic, a new senior B international, and it was like a homecoming. Orser is a big part of the Wall of Fame at the Allandale Centre, with his name in big letters on a plaque, with all of his accomplishments. He won his two Olympic silver medals and a world title while training at the complex south of Barrie, Ont., which, some say, has become the fastest growing city in North America.

Mind you, it’s not the first time in years that Orser has strode the halls of the Allandale. He’s come back with students for Oktoberfest, an October competition that proved a testing ground. And with him he’s brought Nam Nguyen, a going concern in the international men’s ranks indeed. He’s the world junior champion and finished 12th in his debut at the world championships.

Did Nguyen make a pilgrimage to see Orser’s fringed attire at the rink? Nguyen has competed at Oktoberfest before, so it’s not new to him. But yes, he had warmed up in front of the fringes on Tuesday, so no doubt he saw them and got an inkling of what could be.

On Tuesday, practice day at the autumn classic, Nguyen did two lovely quad Salchows, and the quad Salchow is to be part of his routine this week in Barrie. “There’s always milestones along the way,” Orser said. “It’s nice to have a new Big Boy jump because it takes the pressure off the Axels.

Nguyen excels in part, also because he keeps the best of company where he trains in Toronto: world and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and European champion Javier Fernandez of Spain. If you liked Hanyu before, better see him this year. Orser says he has two new programs and he’s never seen anything so beautiful in his life. ( And he’s seen a lot.)

Hanyu is taking an early season break from competing after developing pain in his lower back. He pulled out of Finlandia Trophy a week ago. Orser says it’s more of a preventative measure than anything. “It’s for safety,” he said. “We don’t want to rush too much. We want to make sure he’s in top form at the right time of year.”

Orser says he believes that Hanyu really needed to have a little bit more time off than he did over the summer, what with his many obligations as Olympic champion. Hanyu honours them all. He’s done many shows. And he’s done some wild and crazy jump combinations when he’s been at the Japanese shows. “At these Japanese shows, they all take turns and show off for each other,” Orser said.

And Hanyu isn’t one for backing down from a challenge. “He gets so wound up and so enthusiastic, I wish I could just bottle that,” Orser said.

He spent only two or three weeks in Toronto over the summer, but he’s been training there for the past three weeks. For the first time, Shae-Lynn Bourne has choreographed a routine for Hanyu – and it is his free skate. He’ll skate to Phantom of the Opera and lest you think it’s been overdone by many skaters, well, they haven’t been Bourne’s creations.

Orser first saw the skeleton of the program in May and it created no goosebumps. But a month ago, Hanyu got together with Bourne again to focus on choreographer and Orser was astonished at what came out of those sessions. “It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was all the stuff I knew that Shae-Lynn could do.”

Hanyu is often skeptical, and holds back when he works with someone new, Orser said. But there was a time when he suddenly started to trust Bourne. And it works.

Jeff Buttle created the short program for Hanyu, choosing Chopin Ballade No. 1. Buttle sent Orser  the music and he loved it. “Okay, but you’ll need to do a sale pitch with Hanyu,” he told Buttle.

But Hanyu loved it too. Buttle’s touch is apparent in the choreography, too. Hanyu stands for 14 seconds at the beginning of the routine with his eyes closed. They his eyes open and “it just goes,” Orser said.

Stay tuned for Hanyu magic at Cup of China and NHK Trophy. Nguyen and Hanyu will attend Cup of China together. You won’t catch Orser at home much this fall. He has trips to five of the six Grand Prix events.

Kevin Reynolds and his ongoing boot adventures

Kevin Reynolds will show up at the Autumn Classic booted, in one way or another, later this month.

His boot problems are legendary as he deals with a narrow heel that just does not compute in modern bootmaking, custom or not.  “At this point, I’ve accepted that I might never have a perfectly fitted boot,” he said. “Really, up to that one season that I did have skates that did fit well for some reason, I’ve been dealing with it anyway and doing well enough.”

Remember that trip to Italy he took during the summer to work with the boot manufacturers to get a custom pair of boots? Optimism reigned. He had a couple of pairs made. They didn’t work.

So Reynolds has been training over the summer with a pair of old boots, sticking with their imperfections. His next step: he’s gone to a new equipment specialist, Brian Holtham, who has worked with Patrick Chan for several years. There has been more back and forth with the boot manufacturer.

Reynolds showed up at the national training camp with a pair of boots he’d had for a few months. “They are not ideal,” he said. “But I want to show this week that I’ve been able to do all the skills and if things don’t work out, I do have a backup plan and do what I need to do this season.”

So he’s dealing with the issue as it presents itself week by week. He sees big opportunities this year. With Chan sitting out the season, there’s a national championship to win. “Post-Olympic year is wide open,” he said. “There are some good chances that I want to capitalize on. “

He’s keeping his wonderful AC/DC short program from last year, with a few tweaks to accommodate rule changes.  But his free skate should please Japanese skating fans, who are legion. He’s contracted Kenji  Myamoto to design a program to a game sound track. It’s music that nobody has ever skated to before: the popular “Legend of Zelda.” It’s a high fantasy, action adventure game created by Japanese designers and one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises.  Reynolds has played it. What could be more perfect for Reynolds?

“I wanted to pick something that I was able to enjoy every day in practice, with all the issues I have – and enjoy the music when it comes on,” he said.

One of his Grand Prix events is NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan, the same arena where he won Four Continents during that season when he wore a perfectly fitting pair of skates. “I’m very excited about that,” he said.

So stay tuned for Reynolds’ next chapter. There’s always something.

Patrick Chan golden at Japan Open

The Japan Open has often been a cruel rite of passage for Patrick Chan. Not this time.

Early Saturday, Chan won the men’s free skate with a powerful performance that had teammate Jeff Buttle looking pleasantly delighted and shocked in Team North America’s  kiss and cry. This team included Chan, Buttle, Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner.

Chan was vintage Chan, as good as he could be, better than he has ever been in early October. He fired off a quad toe-triple toe loop painfully close to the end boards, but he seemed unfazed. Not a problem. Got heavy duty marks for it, a 15.97 to lead him to his final score of 178.17, almost 23 points more than Javier Fernandez of Spain, who had a rocky day and fell once on a quad Salchow.

Of course, rocky days are often de rigeur at this part of the season, so not to worry for future events. Takahito Mura was third at 146.41, while Tomas Verner was fourth, Buttle himself was fifth, and Takahiko Kozuka was fifth.

Little smiling Elena Radionova won the women’s event with 136.46 points, safely ahead of promising Japanese skater Satoko Miyahara with Anna Pogorilaya third, Kanako Murakami fourth, Mirai Nagasu fifth and Ashley Wagner fifth with more bobbles than all of the rubber duckies at the Ripley Fall Fair midway.

This was a rare chance to get a glimpse of Chan’s new program choreographed by David Wilson, and a rare chance to see Chan in competitive mode this season and he passed the test big time. We’ll miss him this year, because he’s taking the season off, although he promises to return next year. For now, the rest of the Canadian crew will be fighting for the national championship title this year.

Half a world away, Roman Sadovsky made a case for himself, too. After a tough go in the men’s short program in a Junior Grand Prix in Dresden, Germany, he came back fighting in the free, finishing second to Russia’s Andrei Lazukin who fired off a triple Axel – triple toe loop to win the free with 133.95 points. Sadovsky had no triple Axel this weekend (although he’s been working on them), but used his superior skills with spins and footwork to finish a breath behind in 132.54.

Sadovsky earned level four on all of his spins and even his footwork sequence, which isn’t easy to do. And he was getting a lot of +2s on the spins. His best point-getting jumps were his triple Lutz – double toe loop  and a double Axel – triple toe loop at the end of his program. Sadovsky ended up fourth overall. One boy that he defeated in the free (but not overall) was He Zhang, who landed a mighty quad and had a couple of level four spins, to finish second overall. Sadovsky defeated him by almost four points in the free.

Sadovsky, at age 15, is two years younger than Zhang, who is a veteran of the Junior Grand Prix circuit, having made his debut in 2010. Sadovsky debuted in 2012, and won his first JGP event this year in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

So Sadovsky has bog shoes to fill and many steps to go, but Chan is still hovering and mighty and even landed a triple Axel, his nemesis, with ease today, at least enough that a couple of judges awarded him a +2 on it.

Of course, we did not see Olympic/world champion Yuzuru Hanyu compete in his home country; he’s had to withdraw from Finlandia Trophy reportedly with a sore back. His competitive season starts with Cup of China Nov. 7 to 9 and then NHK at the end of the month.

But the next two years will be fascinating, to see how everything plays out. And Chan has dropped a note, indicating that you can’t forget him.

 

 

 

 

Osmond fractures leg

Asked at the national training camp a little more than a week ago what she wanted for herself for this season, Kaetlyn Osmond replied: “It’s to stay away from injuries.”

She should have knocked on wood.

The two-time Canadian champion fractured the fibula in her right leg during practice last Thursday in Edmonton. It was a silly thing. She was working only on choreography, not any dangerous manoeuvres, when she swerved around another skater, caught an edge and fell onto the ice.

Last Friday, she underwent surgery at the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton to stabilize the fracture. She was out of hospital on Saturday.

The incident will wipe out Osmond’s fall season. She’s to be off the ice for six weeks, and that means she will miss the Autumn Classic a month from now in Barrie, Ont., and both of her Grand Prix: Skate Canada in Kelowna, B.C. and Trophee Eric Bompard in Bordeaux, France.

Doctors tell her that she will not be able to put any weight on the leg for six weeks. “I’m obviously disappointed to miss the early part of the skating season, but I will look forward to getting back onto the ice and training again,” she said in a prepared release. She hopes to make it to the Canadian championships in Kingston, Ont. in January.

Osmond missed a lot of training time over the summer because she suffered a stress fracture in early July in her left foot. Why did this happen? “It could have been a mixture of things,” she said. “We thought maybe my skates were too narrow for my foot. It could have added to the stress that every time I landed, the foot wasn’t completely supported.”

The injury wasn’t completely healed at the camp and she did run-throughs without jumps. “Once this one is healed, it’s to stay away from injuries,” said the 18-year-old native of Maryland, Nfld. “Really, my goal is to be able to make it to my two Grand Prix this year without having to withdraw.”

Not! Her wishes won’t be granted. Osmond was referring to last year’s stress-fraught season when injuries hampered her summer training, and caused her to pull out after the short program at Skate Canada last year, and also miss her fall season. Does a dark little storm cloud follow her?

Because of her most recent stress fracture, Osmond had spent this past summer working mainly on choreography and trying out some new skills. She wanted to win her third national title, perhaps even put a triple loop in her program for the first time, and get that triple flip – triple toe loop out in a long program. “Hoping those will work out for me and hopefully they will carry me for the rest of the year,” she said.

Last year, Osmond’s problems started with a stress fracture in September. But this season’s stress fracture happened in late-June to early July. “It just took longer to heal,” she said. “I was off the ice for quite a bit of the summer and off-ice for two weeks. Then I skated a month, and took a week off.”

At the camp, she said she was getting used to a new feeling of balance in her skates. She has oddly shaped feet, she admits, with really wide toes and a very narrow heel. And her feet are tiny. She wears size 4 ½ skates; and size five running shoes.

The stress fracture she had this season was an aggravation of the one that plagued her last season. It came back.

“I’m taking things more carefully this year,” she said at the camp. Last year, she had rushed through the injury to prepare for Olympic season. Then she got a second injury. This year, however, the pressure was off. “It’s not a stressful season to begin with,” she said. “It’s not an Olympic year. I’m learning a whole bunch of new things with choreography so I’m taking my time with the healing.”

But this new injury is not a stress fracture. It’s a fracture. And a certain level of frustration must hang like a dark mantle on Osmond’s shoulders, after a career full of injuries.