Pair skaters: start your engines

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have really started something, what with that high-flying quad throw of theirs, the envy of their peers at the moment.

Right now, they are on top of the world, having thrown down a gauntlet that, so far this season, is leaving the competition in the dust. They are changing the sport in a way that Elvis Stojko changed it. They have raised the bar. They are so good at throwing this quad Salchow that it has become their personal norm. And get this: they say they can do better throw quad Salchows than they did during the free program at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona last month.

Over Christmas and New Year’s, they undertook a tour in Germany and Italy and last week, when they finally got back into their training, the quad hadn’t suffered at all. The first time they tried it again, there it was, perfect.

And now others will have to pick up the pace if they want to clamber past them and win. And who doesn’t want to win? Duhamel and Radford won the Grand Prix Final easily by a whopping seven points, over Olympic and world silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the fetching Russians, who, alas, however, despite their beautiful Notre Dame de Paris routine, chose to stand still technically this season while they solidified their game.

“They are going to have to step it up now,” Radford said. “And I think this will trickle on down to all the teams in the world. They see the teams on the top and they want to get there, and they’re going to have to start figuring out ways to get where we are.”

Now, a cascade of online videos of quad twisting and quad throwing pair skaters abound on the internet.

For four years, Duhamel and Radford were the only skaters to land side by side triple Lutzes. It’s no secret that they delivered the most difficult technical content of any team. The triple Lutz was part of their repertoire since they joined forces in 2010. Now, incredibly, for the first time, somebody is chasing them on this thing: a new pair that has never been to a world championship together: Valentina Marchei and Ondredj Hotarek of Italy.

“We always wanted to push our sport and ourselves,” Duhamel said a week before the Canadian national skating championships in Kingston, Ont. Of course, they know about the Marchei and Hotarek exploits. The Italians train occasionally with Duhamel and Radford’s coaches in Montreal. “It’s exciting for us,” Duhamel said. “It’s taken a long time for somebody else to start doing it. It’s really exciting to see another team follow in our footsteps.”

This season, Duhamel and Radford unleashed the quad Salchow throw with great consistency and it has helped them sweep both of their Grand Prix and the Final as well. Their goals at the outset of the season? Win ONE of their Grand Prix events and get onto the podium at the final. “If you’d ask what my expectation was at the beginning of the season, I couldn’t even think that far ahead,” Radford said. “I just wanted to be able to skate more relaxed and more comfortable. It was a simple everyday goal.

“We knew it was all possible, but I never would have expected to be where I am right at this moment as the Grand Prix Final champion and really becoming one of the favourites for the world title.”

They aren’t the first to do the throw quad Salchow but they are still one of the few. But they are making it an essential element in the way that Stojko made the quad years ago.

Last season, Duhamel and Radford could see that the Russian pairs got mighty component marks from the judges, putting the Canadians at a three or four-point deficit. They couldn’t battle them with components, so they went the technical route. And lo and behold, their relaxed manner and improved technique has not only suddenly made their twists higher, but their chemistry-on-ice better too.

They needed seven good technical points. Enter the throw quad Salchow.  “We understood that that was what we needed to do,” Duhamel said. “We felt last year we needed more of a cushion.” Yup, they got their seven-point cushion.

Radford says you will see some Chinese teams, and some Russians also attempt some kind of quad or other and maybe the odd American. At the U.S. championships next week in Greensboro, N.C. 2013 U.S. silver pair medalists Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim are going for the quad twist , because after all, their triple twist last year sailed to the rafters. So why not? “It’s a lot more mental than physical,” Scimeca said. “It is physically demanding, and you have to be strong. A lot is expected of me in the quad, but as long as I’m there and not distracted, I’m able to execute my part properly. “

Knierim knows he has to be technically sound to launch it correctly. They tried it one day, just to see how it went, and they worked on it off the ice last summer. On ice: “We were able to catch it the first day,” he said. They tried it a few times outside the program, but limited the number to avoid injury. They tried it in the program for a couple of weeks. It only took a couple of days after they included it in their program to realize they wanted to try it in Greensboro “because we want it for next year and hopefully for Four Continents and worlds.” The fight for the U.S. pair gold will be intense and interesting.

Scimeca believes the component marks tend to go up as the technical marks do, too. “We want to be competing with the best,” she said. “If we are fortunate to be on the world team, that will keep us up with the Chinese and the Russians. If we’re capable of stepping up our game, then we want to start taking risk, so that by 2018, we will be prepared.”

The race is on.


5 thoughts on “Pair skaters: start your engines

  1. Bev, Thanks for sending this article. Looking forward to next week and seeing the outcome of the Pairs and Dance which are my favourite. Mens will be interesting with Nam right up here pushing Liam to skate well technically. Looking forward to Stars on Ice. I understand you have tickets for the ice show on January 31st in St. Catherine’s at the Centre which will be fun, particularly seeing Scott and Tessa. Carolyn

  2. This design is spectacular! You most certainly know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!|

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