There is only one thing certain about the pair event. It is unpredictable.
Certainties are never certainties here. Banks don’t deal in this currency. The scales of justice are forever tipped in the direction of the fearless and the brave.
And apparently, that’s what Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are: mindfully, powerfully adept at doing their job when folk don’t think they can. And thus they won their second consecutive world championship with the second highest score in history: 231.99.
“Winning a world championship to begin with is beyond my expectation,” Radford said. “ It was always in my hopes and dreams, but you never know if everything is going to be aligned. No matter how talented you are, it doesn’t always happen.
“For it to happen twice in a row is even further beyond my expectation,” Radford said. “It makes me proud.
“I had chills as the national anthem was playing. I just feel so proud that we represent Canada…. And it’s nice to be able to give back in a way. By winning this title again.”
After a season of frustration and meandering will and fumbles, Duhamel and Radford strangely enough became the underdogs coming into this event, in which the mighty and exquisite Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov were making a comeback, and so were Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov after they put a pause on their career to get more technical tricks. How was this supposed to all shake out?
“We kind of flew in under the radar,” said Radford “People had kind of drawn a conclusion based on our season that we weren’t quite as strong contenders compared to last season, when we won everything.”
When they finished their free program and Duhamel and Radford looked at each other in stunned belief/disbelief and the crowd rose to its feet the moment the last note died, Radford screamed something unintelligible. The closest human word would be “Yeah!”
“It felt great,” Radford said. “Because it’s difficult not to doubt yourself when everybody else has this expectation of you to skate like that.
“It shows it doesn’t matter what expectation is,” he said. “As long as we believe we can do it, we can make it happen.”
The biggest shock of the day was what happened to Volosozhar and Trankov, gods almost. They tossed up an enormous, beautiful triple twist as in days of old (although it got only a level three much to their chagrin – they had been accustomed to level four), but then things came unraveled.
Trankov stumbled out of a triple Salchow, the first part of a three-jump combination.
Volosozhar’s leg flipped up for balance on the landing of a throw triple flip. Their flying change foot combo spin went out of synch. Volosozhar turned out of a throw triple loop. Officials totally discounted a difficult reverse lasso lift, because it did not go up in one continuous motion. They lost levels on their other lift and that wonky spin.
Then the marks flashed up: 128.68 for the free skate. (154.66 had been their record, the world record actually from Skate America in 2013). That placed them only seventh in the free skate, behind Canadians Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch.
Overall, they earned a total of 205.81, well below their world record of 237.71, taken at the 2013 Skate America.
Volosozhar and Trankov, sixth overall, offered no comment.
The top Russian team, Stolbova and Klimov finished fourth 214.48 points. It was little comfort for the brainy, endlessly pleasant Klimov to be the top Russian pair. “We are not on the podium,” Klimov said. “And there is no Russian on the podium. I don’t care if we are top Russians or not. It’s good for today. But in general, it is not a good result for Russian couples.”
But it was for Canadians. All three Canadian teams finished among the top eight with Iliushechkina and Moscovitch finishing seventh and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro eighth. The later were alternates for the world team until Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau had to with draw with injury. Moore-Towers and Marinaro shaved more than 13 points off their previous best free skate score. They also improved on their season’s best for their short program.
Because of their injury, incurred during a fall at nationals in January, Moore-Towers and Marinaro couldn’t put in as much training as they would have liked. “So we had to work smart,” she said. Every day, they watched Duhamel and Radford skate as if
they were already at the world championships.
“Next year, we want to be here the right way, and not by chance,” Moore-Towers said.
Duhamel and Radford’s coaches were the wind beneath their wings, who turned their season around after an agonizing Canadian championship in Halifax in January, Yes, they won, but not with the razzle dazzle they had hoped.
“We had a rough season,” Duhamel said. “But they believed in us. And I believe in us. We knew that this result was possible, and it feels amazing.
Duhamel said that she felt so much frustration by nationals that she began to wonder: “Is it time to stop competing? Can I never reach the level I want to again?”
Duhamel and Radford hadn’t talked about this feeling, but Radford had been thinking the same thing. They felt it individually. “We are always on the same page somehow, even though we don’t talk directly about it.”
Her husband/coach Bruno Marcotte told her that if she was getting frustrated, it meant she still care. And that it wasn’t over.
After nationals, Duhamel and Radford sat down with choreographer Julie Marcotte (Bruno’s sister) and made a plan about how to make it to worlds.
“How are we going to get there?” Duhamel recalled. “What steps are we going to take? “ Revising the music of their long program was one thing, but the mental approach to their training was the main thing. Going to the Four Continents Championship, they had made a turnaround. But when Duhamel fell ill with the flu, the pair was forced to withdraw after the short program and nobody saw what they had done.
With Marcotte, they made their goals clearer. They held themselves to a higher standard every day. “I think we got a little bit lazy in how we trained day in and day out,” Duhamel said.
It wasn’t enough to land a throw quad every day. They needed to do one that would get a GOE of +2 or +3. “That’s within our ability,” Duhamel said.
They pushed themselves to do that every day, to ensure their elements were solid. With this accomplished, they could focus on creating moments.
For some reason, they hadn’t been doing that at the beginning of the season.
“We were wandering aimlessly without goals,” Duhamel said. She recalls going to Skate Canada, and sitting in the kitchen with her husband and saying: ‘I don’t know what’s my goal. I don’t know what we want to do at Skate Canada.’”
Bruno replied: “Well, you’d better figure that out.”
But they floated. So they decided after nationals, they wanted to do it right.
Every morning at 9 a.m., they’d perform their long program in their rink, and “it was like it was the world championships,” Duhamel said.
Others in the rink noticed the charge in energy. As Duhamel and Radford flew around the rink, the others would stand back by the boards and watch. “That’s when you know you are in the right place,” Duhamel said.
After their talk with Julie, the following session, their free skate was “five times better than anything we had done,” Radford said.
Duhamel and Radford work with Julie twice a week. But two weeks ago, they met to discuss it all again. They needed a refresher course. The frustration had started to creep in again. “We’re starting to feel lost,” Duhamel said.
Because they told her right away, Julie got them back on track immediately. The next day, they did a perfect runthrough. “I guess we need to be more open when we feel like this so we don’t go through half the season feeling like it,” Duhamel said.
If they hadn’t done this, they would not be standing on top of the podium with gold medals slung around their necks.
At Boston, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong had skated right before Duhamel and Radford. They did not watch, but Duhamel said they could feel the rink’s energy when they finished and they knew they had not been perfect. “We tried to be comfortable,” she said. “When we try to be perfect, perfect is impossible. And when you focus on being perfect, we get tense and nervous and mistakes happen.”
Then they heard the Chinese marks: 143.62 for the long program. Duhamel and Radford looked at each other and said: “This is our moment and our opportunity.” But they had felt this on the warmup, too.
Yes, Radford could have had a smoother landing on their jump combination. Duhamel could have landed her throw quad Salchow more smoothly. They’d done better in practice, with a softer landing. “But I’ll take that one today,” she laughed.
And the marks flew. Duhamel and Radford got a 10 for components once for a short program. But on Saturday, they had four of them, three for performance and execution, one for choreography.
“It’s the magic key of being an athlete,” Radford said. “Figuring out how to make it happen in the moment. All you can do is be in a mind frame that gives you your best chance.”
And this may have to be what the Russians need. And maybe they need more. For the second consecutive year, Russia won no medals at all in the pair event, a discipline the country has dominated since the 1960s.
The last Russian gold was taken by Volosozhar and Trankov at the 2013 world championships in London. This was Volosozhar and Trankov’s first world championship since.
In 2014, Stolbova and Klimov took the silver medal.
One Russian journalist said that the Russians don’t belong to the group at all. It’s logical that this is happening now, the journalist said because the Russian federation
believes their athletes are so strong and that will be enough. But with Duhamel and Radford starting a rush for quads, the Russians have been left behind.
The federation has caused its own issues by sending all of its best pair skaters to one school – and it has been besieged by injuries, right down to the junior level.
The Germans have made a strong push into the elite with Aliona Savchenko (five-time world champion with previous partner Robin Szolkowy) and her new partner, the gentle giant, Bruno Massot, a French skater. Savchenko had to wait months for Massot to be released by the French federation to allow him to skate for Germany.
They have turned into an impressive team, earning the bronze medal with awe-inspiring twists, and fabulous side by side spins, matched beyond belief. They had hoped to finish within the top six here.
“We are really happy to be here in our first season together to get a medal,” Massot said. “That was not our objective. It was just performing two good programs. There were some mistakes but [in the end] we got a medal. I thank Aliona for wanting to continue with me. Without her, I would not be here.”
Savchenko who now wears a different countenance than in the old days –more relaxed, happier – said her dream has come true. “It’s amazing all these emotions all come out. I’ m really happy I can continue and I can enjoy what I love to do. Unbelievably happy.”
Their free dance is choreographed by Canadian icon Gary Beacom who has moved to Europe.
This event was a breakthrough when Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch finished sixth in the free skate, ahead of the Olympic champions. The Canadian media contingent all trudged down to the mixed zone, but they never appeared. Television networks have adopted a new thing – to put the top three leaders in a green room to show their reactions as other skaters compete. This has rendered the mixed zone an empty zone. We still haven’t heard about their magnificent effort.