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.

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