My story, as appeared on the Skate Canada website:


Pair free, women short, world figure skating championships 2015

Perfection is a tough goal.

When Meagan Duhamel came off the ice after the pair free skate at the world championships, she said: “I don’t know if it’s enough.”

Well, it was. Duhamel and Radford won the first world pair championship for Canada since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier 14 years ago, with points to spare, despite a couple of bobbles. They sailed to first with a cushion of 7.41 points over Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China.

“We always dreamed big and some dreams are so big that you probably never imagine them actually happening,” Radford said. “And now it’s actually happening to us and it is hard to tell if this is a dream or reality.”

When they had finished last season, Duhamel said they felt they had already achieved “all of our biggest, wildest goals [two-time world bronze medalists]. That was it. It was over. We’d achieved everything we’d ever dreamed of. Now we are one up and it is actually unbelievable. We are very proud of ourselves, not just for this skate but for the entire [undefeated] season.”

Duhamel and Radford also kept three spots for Canadian pairs next year for worlds in Boston.

Duhamel put hands down on their throw quad Salchow, then Radford bobbled and lost unison during a combo spin. But the veterans (29 and 30 years old) brushed it all off to with 221.53 points.

In fact veterans reigned. Qing Pang and Jian Tong, both 35 years old, were the artists of the night, winning program component scores 73.61 points with a memorable skate to Lo Ci Saro. It was only their second international of the season and they are retiring again. It was Pang’s idea to return, said Tong. He just followed.

Pang admitted she was nervous for the free. “Though we tried to bring our performance to perfection there were still some regrets,” she said. “I thank all the audience for their passion. I’m very happy to be back on the rink and in our home country.”

And they will disappear, a brief shot of sunshine on a difficult road. “To be honest, I didn’t want it to happen so soon, but it is time to say goodbye,” Tong said. “We tried out best and I think it is the best way to say goodbye. We also tried our best to train ourselves for the competition, but because of our age, we couldn’t do it anymore. “

The Chinese transported their capacity crowd, with teams finishing second, third and fourth. Sui and Han, three-time world junior championships, finally found their step at this event to take the silver medal. And with a stunning quad twist that got some +3 GOEs, Sui and Han actually edged Duhamel and Radford in the technical mark.  Sui and Han won the long program and took the silver medal by 1.35 points over Pang and Tong. Sui and Han earned 10.10 points on that level-three twist alone.

Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang finished fourth overall with a brilliant quad twist, which earned them 10.53 points. Peng feels they have made breakthrough. She did feel the pressure to compete in China.  Zhang said they were pleased to break 200 points with a score of 206.63.

The fates of others? Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, 33 and 30 years old, finished fifth overall, but sixth in the free after Kavaguti touched a hand down on the quad throw, got only a level one on their death spiral, and then Kavaguti fell on a throw triple loop. Their triumph? Making it back to competition after Smirnov’s injury that cost them a trip to the Sochi Olympics last year.

“It seems like we were not really together today,” Kavaguti said. “I didn’t expect to compete at worlds this year, so I’m quite happy we came here and skated in the last group. There was a similar situation two years ago. I’m disappointed.” They are off to compete at the World Team Trophy in Japan.

“Apparently I was focused more on fighting for a medal than on delivering a clean performance,” Smirnov said. “It was tough, physically. I fought for each element today. Too bad we spoiled the impression of our free program today.” Will they be back? Smirnov doesn’t know.

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim nailed their lofty quad twist for 9.67 points and finished seventh. “I don’t think there are any limits to our potential,” Scimeca said.  They are going home to work on quality.

World junior silver medalists Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau, at their first world senior championships finished eighth overall and – isn’t this fun? – they were 10th in both the short and long programs. Still their consistent, shining performance bodes well for their future.

Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch appeared to be sailing along quite comfortably in their free skate, but the wheels came off during the final minute as their lack of time together became evident. Lubov fell out of an ambitious back outside death spiral, then they lost synch during a combo spin, and then their final lift collapsed. “I can’t say I saw that coming,” Moscovitch said. Another year together will put many things right. They were 13th.

“I think we were skating so well, we were probably a little too excited,” Moscovitch said later. “Maybe we lost our focus a little bit. Being a new team, we will learn over time how to bring each other back under stress.”

They plan to be back next year with “stronger elements, new elements, harder elements,” Moscovitch said.

And it can’t be said any longer that Duhamel and Radford are the only ones to do triple Lutzes in their routines. In the free, Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek landed marvellous ones (although some judges gave them -1 GOE while many others gave them +2.) They had other difficulties: a lift collapse, a crashy twist, but they, too, are in their first season together, with Marchei at age 28 being completely new to pair skating. They were 11th at their first worlds together. “It was beautiful that after seven world championships to be here with a partner,” Marchei said. “It’s totally different.”

While perfection is hard to come by in a high-risk pair event, it almost became the norm in the women’s short program. But many of us didn’t know when the event started that Canadian champion Gabby Daleman had dislocated a knee two weeks ago and is still recovering; Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia had such an early practice, that she brought a blanket and slept in the warmup room before her event started; Russian media say Elena Radionova had a temperature of 100 degrees F., not ideal; and Anna Pogorilaya injured ligaments in her left leg before the championships, although she says things have gone better in the past two weeks. She said she was also sick before the competition. “It was the hardest preparation ever for me before a competition,” she said.

The American women had no excuses at all and will have to up their game in the free to save their three spots for next year.

But the crowning achievement of all was Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s triple Axel, and what a pretty, easy one, garnering her 10.07 with some +2s in GOE. Tutktamysheva became the sixth woman to land a triple
Axel in competition, others being Midori Ito, Tonya Harding, Ludmila Nelidina, Yukari Nakano and Mao Asada.

Tutktamysheva said she thought she had only a 50 per cent chance of actually landing it, and won’t try it in the free, because she didn’t have time to make the changes in the program and then train them. But look out for the future!

“When I landed the triple Axel, I got goosebumps and I thought: ‘Is this a dream or did I really just do the triple Axel at the world championships?’” she said. “I had to pull myself together after this.” She added that this was the first time that she did a clean short with the triple Axel. (Good time to do it.) “It was a risk to do the triple Axel in the short program, but figure skating has to evolve,” she said. “The men are doing three quads in the program and the girls also have to develop.”

That triple Axel rocketed Tuktamysheva (10th last year at Russian nationals, missing the Sochi Olympics) into first place with 77.82 points, third highest in history for a short behind Asada and Yu Na Kim. Her performance was electric and brilliant, but as Jeff Buttle tweeted: “not an ounce of beauty. Just being honest.” Still, Tuktamysheva had the highest component marks of the lot: 33.53. Next highest in that category was Elena Radionova with 31.48.

Tuktamysheva’s technical mark alone was 44.09, towering over Radionova’s 38.03. Tuktamysheva actually landed four triples in the short program. Ground-breaking.

Radionova, competing at her first world senior championship,  was second with 69.51 points, after gaining level fours for all elements and landing an adequate triple Lutz – triple toe loop. She trails Tuktamysheva by 8.11 points. She admitted to nerves but is happy with the score and said she has no immediate plans to include the triple Axel.

Tiny Satoko Miyahara is third with 67.02 points and is celebrating a birthday, the same day as Canadian silver medalist Alaine Chartrand, who turned 19 and sits in 10th with a close-to-best 60.24. Miyahara said she “skated with satisfaction,” got a personal best (67.02) and hopes to get another one in the free. She feels surprise at being third, but this will give her more confidence going into the free. She says she’s practiced the triple Axel in the past, “but I need to try harder,” quite a statement from a young teen who is a workaholic already.

Other very memorable performances:

There was a stunning turnaround and magical moment for Kanako Murakami after being fifth at Japanese nationals, to be fourth in the short for a best score of 65.48. She was delightful.

Rika Hongo barrels along with utter consistency, but in the short, she skated with an extra bit of joy and is fifth, with a perfectly executed program. It’s her first worlds.

Zijun Li of China is sixth, but still not happy with the landing of her first jump, (an underrotation on the second part of the triple flip-triple toe loop). The crowd went wild when Li came out. “I could feel the passion from the audience and I was very motivated,” she said. She’s not so worried about her placement as she is about the prospect of progress. She’s changed the order of elements in her free program, and she knows she still needs to pay attention to the second mark.

Polina Edmunds, whose goal it was to at least get on the podium, is in seventh place, best of all the American women and with 61.71 points, still 5.31 points away from third with some bearcats in front of her. At least, her program was clean (showed off a wow Biellmann spin with her long legs). Her goal, she said, is to skate another clean in the free.

Alaine Chartrand in 10th with 60.24, landing her triple Lutz – triple toe loop, but underrotating the last part, which cost her a point. “It feels good to skate that close to my personal best on my birthday,” she said. “I’m very happy to have a skate like that at my first senior [world] championships.” Her goal is to make top 12 overall, with a personal best.

Sadder bits:

Gracie Gold unravelling, stepping out of the first part of her triple Lutz – triple toe combo, then coming to a screeching stop by the boards on her triple loop. That puts her in eighth, but 16.89 behind Tuktamysheva.

Porogrilyaya fell very hard on a triple loop, grabbed her back after landing a double Axel, apparently in pain, and then stumbled during footwork. “I wasn’t very well prepared for this championship,” she admitted. Gold, Pogorilaya and Chartrand are all within a breath of each other.

Ashley Wagner got some disapproving glares from coach Rafael Arutunian after she fell at the second part of her triple Lutz – triple toe loop and turned out of a double Axel. She came back and landed a triple flip with determination, but it didn’t take much to plunge her to 11th place. “It’s tough to skate in last and I had a couple of things up against me,” she said. “But tomorrow is a new day…Today just wasn’t my day.”

Back to that triple Axel: Tuktamysheva said she was surprised when she landed a triple Axel early in January, and then busily began working on it. It wasn’t ready for the European championships, because she just wanted a clean program.

On what we’ll see in women’s skating in the future? “I don’t think the Russian girls will give away their position anytime soon,” Tuktamysheva said. “But there are a lot of girls at a very high level and I believe we’ll have a very interesting and risky life in the future.”


Pair and dance short, world figure skating championships 2015

So how did the winners win on the first day of the world figure skating championships?

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford seem almost inhumanly consistent (to the point that if they make a mistake at home during training, their clubmates say: “Ahhhhh, you are human!), but they are particularly explosive on the technical side.

While Qing Pang and Jian Tong slightly edged them on the program component marks  (by .20 points), the Canadians excelled on the technical side, with their side by side triple Lutzes, (the only skaters to do this in the short) , their throw triple Lutzes (well, they weren’t the only ones – Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch gallantly did a throw triple Lutz, too but their point spread was .60 points), and almost all elements  listed at level four.

Duhamel and Radford’s twist was deemed a level three, as was Pang and Tong’s lofty one, and it’s not easy to get a level four in this move, but Wenjing Sui and Cong Han did, as well as Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, and understandably, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

So Duhamel and Radford reigned supreme with a tech mark of 41.27, while Sui and Han really did sizzle with 38.89, the second highest technical mark. (They are currently third going into the free.)  They did a throw triple flip,  but they got more points for that element than Duhamel and Radford, 6.90 to be exact. Their level four twist got the Chinese a whopping 8.00 points. They lost ground because they did only triple toe loops.

Duhamel and Radford defeated the lovely Pang and Tong because of their 3.59 technical edge over them. Injuries have made jumps an uncertain thing for Pang and Tong in the past, but right away today, the Chinese nailed their triple toe loops, and you knew things were going to be all right with them. Of course those toe loops earned them 5.20 points while Duhamel and Radford’s Lutzes counted for 7.20.

And of course, Duhamel and Radford are human. When they took their starting positions, Duhamel said she felt: “terrified, calm, confident, and like I was going to vomit all at the same time.

“Seriously, I went through waves where I felt so calm and I was like, this is easy and then I go through a wave where I was like: ‘Oh my god, I can’t do this.’ But when the music starts, it always brings us back together and I felt okay, now I’m good. It’s comforting when you hear your music on the ice.”

Radford said he felt proud of what they did, and admitted they both were “pretty nervous” going into the short program. The crowd hadn’t settled after Pang and Tong had skated, and he found it a little distracting.

And Pang and Tong? Lots of pressure there. They had changed the program three weeks ago, after Four Continents. And the feeling that they know this will be their final competition, ever. They will retired after this (for sure, they said.) And they are skating in China.

“Of course we were a little bit nervous because the audience are all watching us and we felt some pressure,” Pang said. “I think this competition will give me a very good memory.”

Both Sui and Han and Peng and Zhang admitted to feeling pressure because of the expectations of skating at the first world championship held in China. “We wanted to do our best and show it to the Chinese people,” Han said.

Kavaguti and Smirnov were pleased to have a good performance and say they don’t look at the score. Still, they were disappointed to get only a level three on a spin. “I thought I counted and Yuko counted (the rotations),” Smirnov said. “ It was a little tough to skate at worlds again after such a long break and I felt a bit nervous. “

Seguin and Bilodeau, 10th after the short, say their goal was to finish in the top 10 at their first senior worlds, but they are not putting pressure on themselves.

As for Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch, they are becoming quite accustomed to skating first. They’ve done it at all seven competitions they’ve entered this season. “We have practiced,” he said. Moscovitch touched hands down on a triple Salchow.

Ilyushechkina said she was excited to skate for Canada. “It’s nice to see a lot of fans from Canada,” she said. “They gave me a lot of power. “
For the short dance, Madison Chock and Evan Bates ended up on top because, for the first time, they got level fours for all elements, including their first Paso pass. And Grand Prix Final and Four Continents champs Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje got only a level two.  “That made a difference in our score,” Bates said. “We’ve made so many minute changes to the details, especially since Four Continents. We changed our approach to the footwork, taking a few turns out and making sure the turns that we are doing are high quality.”

Chock and Bates and Weaver and Poje were locked in step with the midline footwork sequence, both earning 10.80 points. Weaver and Poje edged the Americans narrowly on a lift and the twizzles. But we’re splitting hairs, here. Mind you, hairs can win or lose an event, as Weaver and Poje learned last year when they lost the world title by only .02 points.

Chock and Bates led after the short dance at Four Continents, but then fell to second. Bates said they weren’t particularly pleased with their free dance in Seoul. “We knew we could skate better,” he said. “We know we can’t rest. We have to absolutely attack the program and skate it as if we’re coming from behind.”

Weaver said she and Poje had put pressure on themselves since finishing third in the short dance at Four Continents to improve their technical mark. And they were in the zone today. Chock and Bates defeated them technically by 1.82 points although judges gave the component mark to Weaver and Poje narrowly .03 points. Basically, they thought them the same.

Actually, reigning world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte had higher technical marks in the short than Weaver and Poje, but only by .33 points. They had level fours in their paso sections, but only a level three for not-touching midline footwork.

The top three teams had component marks that are basically tied. The highest component marks were awarded to the fourth placed team, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who had 36.66 points. The young French team looked disappointed at their marks but lost ground technically in both paso sections (level three for both) and for their midline footwork sequence (level three).

“We might not have had the score we expected, but there were a lot of good things in our performance today,” Papadakis said.

“We’ve improved a lot,” Cizeron said. “Last year, we were 13th at worlds. We don’t expect too much now. We are just happy with our progress.”

Cappellini and Lanotte have had a tough season, disappearing from the scene after a disappointment at Cup of China, and then suffering a defeat to Papadakis and Cizeron at the European championships – beaten by a team they had left in their dust a year ago. “We couldn’t be happier with the performance we put out there…It means a lot to us,” Cappellini said. “The last 12 months have been difficult for us, but we did realize we love the sport and we wanted to keep going.”

Cappellini said if anyone had asked them if they would continue for the next Olympic cycle, they would have said no. “We were so drained,” she said. “It was clearly an exceptional season for us. We needed to figure out why we would continue skating. It wasn’t from day one to the other that we realized it is our life.”

They want to enjoy it as long as it lasts, she said. “It is an opportunity for us to really live this experience instead of chasing after a particular medal. “

They’ve been trying to reinvent themselves and they suffered health problems, too. “It’s not over for us,” she said.”






What Javier Fernandez has become

There was a time when Javier Fernandez was all about the high-flying, sharply rotated, stunning jump. Quads in particular. Well, maybe he had a bit of charisma, too, in those brown Spanish eyes.

But since he took up residence in Toronto, to train with Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, he’s gradually learned that skating is about, well, skating:  balance, edges, power, riding the blade.

During Fernandez’s early days at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, Wilson would start her stroking sessions and at some point, she would look at coach Brian Orser and Orser would look at Wilson and they’d say: “Where’s Javi?”

He would have quickly cut out from the session. They found him sitting on a bench, a reluctant participant. Not for long, however. Back out onto the ice he went.

“Now he’s phenomenal,” Wilson said. “He can teach it, now.”

So it’s no surprise that Fernandez is staging his own summer camp in Madrid this summer with special guest stars Wilson and Orser.

Fernandez was a tad slow to come around to this Wilson/Orser way of thinking, but he’s been unbelievable in the way he has finally absorbed it. “He has actually been the one that has amazed me,” Wilson said. “If you look at his training habits and you look at his skating skills [of the past] – I remember – Brian and I do a lot of this together.”

A year and a half after Fernandez came to them, before he won his first European title, Wilson and Orser one day finally saw Fernandez skate around into something and they both thought: “He gets it.”

“It’s the sound of the blade,” Wilson said. “It’s that feeling. You just say Patrick Chan. It’s the security and the sound of the blade and it says balance and it says power. And that’s what Javi does.

“He’s come a long way.”

Mind you, Fernandez originally went to Toronto because he said he wanted better choreography, better skating skills, better spins. Perhaps it was just that he had to shake off the siesta part of his heritage in the early days. He went to the right spot.

To this point, Fernandez is a two-time world bronze medalist, and a three-time European champion. He just missed the podium at the Olympics in Sochi and finished fourth.  And along the way in his career, he scored major firsts: the first Spanish man to win a medal at a Grand Prix (Skate Canada); the first Spanish man to make it to a Grand Prix Final; and the first Spanish man to qualify for an Olympic Games since 1956. He’s a trailblazer for sure.

Fernandez rose from nothing, with less than 10 rinks in his country. The rink where he used to train is now a restaurant. He failed to even qualify for the world championships in his debut season as a senior and then ended up 35th at his first one in 2007. He was on the rise, but not quickly, finishing 30th the following year.

His big breakthrough season, under Orser, came in 2011-12, when he sizzled through the short program at Skate Canada in Mississauga, Ont., landed the only clean quad and finished first, ahead of Daisuke Takahashi and Patrick Chan. To prove that wasn’t an accident, he finished second in the free skate and took the silver medal overall. His second-place finish at the Rostelecom Cup in Russia (only .03 points behind Yuzuru Hanyu) got him to the Grand Prix Final for the first time that year.

He’s quietly a major contender for the world championships in Shanghai, but takes his marvellous Black Betty routine and the Barber of Seville (what else?) to the table. Both are good vehicles. His personal best score is 275.93 (sixth highest ever), taken at the world championships last year.  His short program score there was a whopping 96.42, the fifth highest ever!

And for the first time, he skated at home, in Barcelona, at the Grand Prix Final this season, when he finished second to Hanyu. “That was quite a learning curve for him to skate at home,” Orser said. “And he handled it really well. And it was exciting. It’s going to open up some opportunities to get skating going in Spain, and perhaps he’ll do some shows in Spain and give figure skating a boost.”

There’s a new maturity to Fernandez, who in the early days, didn’t always show up to practice on time. “He’s really treating the sport like a business,” Orser said. “I think he sees the opportunities that come along with skating well, whether it’s getting a world medal or a European title and he enjoys doing the shows. He enjoys their income. [Spain is not exactly flush with support money.]. And I think he gets it, that this is a business.

“It’s different from when I skated. I skated because it was a sport, and there was no paycheque at the end of the season.”

Fernandez likes the sporting side of figure skating, too. He’s very competitive. And he knows that he’s only as good as his last performance. How does he compare to his competitors? Among skaters who are actually showing up to this Shanghai party,  Fernandez’s best short program score has been bested only by Hanyu (who has the record of 101.45 taken at the Sochi Olympics) and Denis Ten’s 97.61, from the Four Continents this year. Next on the list of active skaters is Maxim Kovtun at 92.53, at Cup of Russia.

Free skate? Fernandez’s 189.07 from the 2013 European championship is still the fourth highest score in history. Hanyu’s 194.08 at the Grand Prix Final this season and Ten’s 191.85 at Four Continents are the only scores that eclipse the Spanish skater’s tally, among active skaters.

Total score? Patrick Chan still holds the world record of 295.27, with Hanyu lying second at 293.25. Ten has 289.46 from Four Continents this year. The next active skater, behind Fernandez is Joshua Farris with 260.01.

Yes, Fernandez is a contender, and he’s been skating well in Toronto leading up to this event. “He’s doing really well,” Orser said.

“I am so proud of him this season.”


Canada’s duos strangely in step

(My story, as seen on the Skate Canada website:


Fate and destiny have bought Canada’s top two upwardly mobile duos to much the same place, on the same path, so much so, it’s almost chilling to behold.

Never have Canadian doublets been in such step as pair skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and their ice dancing counterparts Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

At every bend this season, they have been matching steps to the world figure skating championships where both are favoured to win gold. And it would be a first if they did. Although Canadian skaters have won double-gold at world championships before (Donald Jackson and Maria and Otto Jelinek in 1962, Kurt Browning and Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler in 1993, and Patrick Chan and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in 2012), it’s never happened to two Canadian twosomes.

Partway through the season, both noticed the similarity of their journeys. “After the NHK Trophy, we had both won the event, and we looked at each other and said: ‘Wait a second. We’re the exact same right now. We’re three for three;” Weaver said.

Last fall, Duhamel and Radford and Weaver and Poje both scored victories in early season internationals in Barrie, Ont., and Obertsdorf, Germany for win No. 1. Afterwards they never competed apart. Last fall, they had been assigned to the same Grand Prix events, and swept them all. Then they both won gold at the Grand Prix Final(four for four);  gold at the Canadian championships. (five for five); then gold at the Four Continents Championships (six for six.). In Shanghai, China next week, they’ll go for seven, a lucky number that signifies divine perfection, completeness, something that is finished.

Both didn’t have their best Olympics in Sochi last February. Both realized that they had to do their jobs on their own terms, for the joy of it. Not training in a relaxed way (“We’re exhausted after every practice,” Weaver said), but shutting out the distractions of opinion and result.

“We both feel the same pressure,” Weaver said. “To have someone else to share that with, not only with your partner, but another team altogether, has been really fun and enlightening.”

“I feel like we are sharing this special journey with them,” said Duhamel, who will room with Weaver  in Shanghai. “I think we share a really special energy between the four of us.”

In Barcelona, Duhamel and Weaver started a tradition together: finding a yoga class when they first get to an event. The texts fly back and forth. Last Monday, Weaver texted Duhamel: “Last Monday of the regular season of training!”

“Yay,” Duhamel said in return. “She’s always checking up on me to see how things are going.”

They find that they share the same feelings, the same trouble getting their feet under them after a trip, the same jetlag, the same ease that things have settled back to normal at the same time. “Every time she texts me about something, we’re both feeling the same way, or our energies are the same,” Duhamel said.

Ditto for Radford and Poje, who roomed together in Barcelona. “At every competition, I think there is an unspoken connection and feeling because we’re both in the exact same situation,” Radford said. “And it’s comforting and nice to know in those really high intense moments of pressure, when you’re feeling nervous, we have teammates that are in the exact same situation. And they are still alive. And they survived. And they are doing an amazing job. It gives us confidence to know we are going through the same situation with some of our best friends.”

It’s not as if they are forged from the same pieces of clay. They are in different disciplines for Pete’s sake: pairs with their fearlessness, ice dancers with their twizzles and emotion. They have decidedly different personalities, all of them.

“What’s neat is that you get to see how someone else handles the situation,” Weaver said. “I really admire Meagan’s tenacity and I love her aggressiveness when she skates. So we can learn from each other in that way.”

If Weaver and Poje arrive to the rink after a pair practice, they’ll ask how Duhamel and Radford fared. They’ll say (so many times this year): “Awesome!”

“And you know what? We can have awesome practices, too,” Weaver said. “They are very confident and we feed off each other in that way. I think we are all very different personalities, but we are able to come together and know that we are all feeling the same thing.”

Case in point: In Barcelona, both wanted to do so well and Duhamel was feeling butterflies about it all. Weaver advised her  that they do the same program every time, the same quads, the same twizzles, the same lifts. Nothing changes from one competition to another. “We both really kind of hung onto that,” Weaver said. “We have that little reminder for each other every time we go out.” They both won gold at the Grand Prix Final – quite decisively.

And what if they both were to win in Shanghai? The thought gives Weaver chills up her sparkly arm.

“It would be monumental for sure,” Poje said. “It would be such a powerful message for Canada to be able to display those two champions. We both have to go out there and do our jobs and make sure that we put everything we can out there.

“But it’s a wonderful picture to think about and to be able to share the same memories and the same moment with them, coming from the same country and hearing the same anthem. It would be amazing.”

Weaver says she rarely misses watching Duhamel and Radford skate, at least for the long program. She thinks she’s seen them five out of six times, perhaps all of them. “I’m very proud to witness their growth and the incredible strides that they have made as a team, especially with that long, which is gorgeous,” she said.

And what if there is an incredible double-barrelled win, two golds for two teams?

“It would mean a lot of champagne for Team Canada,” Weaver said.

To quad or not to quad: that is the question

His Four Continents experiment – putting the quad in the short program  – was a learning experience that cost Canadian champion Nam Nguyen nothing but a few lumps.

He took his lumps (11th overall at Four Continents) and will compete at his second world championship with an eye to the future. In other words, although he will be there to show his wares and enjoy himself, he also has another important task: to keep spots for Canadian men for next year at worlds in Boston. Therefore the quad in the short program is coming out. He’ll go back to using triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe loop and triple flip. It worked for him this season when he earned bronze at his very first senior Grand Prix, and won his first Canadian senior title.

He’s not alone in having this on his shoulders. Jason Brown is dropping his quad, too, noting that it’s not at the consistency level he needs to try it at worlds. Like Nguyen, Brown attempted a quad (but a toe loop) in the short program, underrotated it significantly, then messed up his triple Axel. Nguyen doubled his quad Salchow and fell on his triple Axel.

The difference between the two was that Nguyen has been doing quad Salchows quite successfully in his free throughout this season (he underrotated it at Four Continents), but Brown did not attempt one at all in the free in Seoul.

Bottom line: Brown finished sixth at Four Continents, 46 points behind gold medalist Denis Ten. And Nguyen’s personal best was 57 points behind Ten. There comes a point when you know that landing a quad at a world championship is less important than finishing as high as possible in the standings to preserve spots for next year. That’s why, for some, the world championships may not show their ultimate skill sets.

At this world championship, Canada has only two entries, Nguyen and Jeremy Ten. If the two of them together have placements that are less than or equal 13 points, Canada gets three men for next year. Considering the entry list, this is going to be very tough. Failing that, they’ll keep the two spots if their placements don’t fall below 28 points. At this point, this is key.

The United States had a better world championship last year than Canada in the men’s event. Even though the US had only two entrants last year, those skaters made the most of their chances. With Jeremy Abbott finishing fifth and Max Aaron eighth, they just managed to earn enough points to send three this year: U.S. champ Brown, Four Continents silver medalist Joshua Farris and the mercurial Adam Rippon, who could rip up the pea patch if he landed everything in his arsenal. IF.

The other issue is finishing high enough in the standings to get two Grand Prix assignments for next year. Finish in the top 12 for singles events and top 10 for dance and pairs events at worlds, and you can be invited for two Grand Prix events the following season, too.

So Nguyen has a plan and it doesn’t include the quad Salchow in the short program. Coach Brian Orser realized it was a tall order for Nguyen to land one at Four Continents. “But it’s really the only event that was can at a high level take a risk and give it a try, because it’s not going to affect whether he goes to worlds,” said the coach. “And it doesn’t affect how many people go next year. It was really the only place we could turn up the heat and give it a good try.”

Nguyen tried the quad in a short program simulation recently and judge monitors told him that the quad “took a lot of energy from the program, which didn’t look nice at all, especially the footwork,” he said. “I didn’t put a lot of effort into it, because I was thinking of the triple Axel that was after my footwork.” That helped him make his decision to return to the old setups.

Therefore, Four Continents becomes one of these magical competitions where folks might get to see all skaters’ best “Higher, Faster, Stronger” attempts.

Nguyen realized that doing a short program is much more stressful than doing a free program. “It’s a different feeling from the long program because in the long, If I make a mistake on the quad, then I have seven more jumps to do, whereas in the short, I only have two more jumps,” he said. “It’s just the mentality of it is a little bit different for me.” Nguyen admitted he was nervous and “a lot of thoughts came into my head” just before the jump. That’s not vintage Nguyen.

Orser said that the body feels different and the tension is different in the short program. He’ll go back to the short he did throughout the season. “We’re not going to break any records with that,” he said. “However, we’re going to get him set up in a nice position, with a clean short hopefully. Then go out and do a clean long and move up.

“That’s where he really makes a big difference: is the long. He’s in such great condition and the chances are, he will do a pretty clean , if not a very clean program, and that’s where a lot of the other boys don’t. He’s quite consistent and that’s the feather in our cap for the free program.”

Nguyen is also handling some new challenges this year, too. Last year, Nguyen went to worlds as a world junior champion, and it was a bonus to get an assignment to the world seniors as well. He handled it well, finishing 12th. “But this season, he’s Canadian champion and he has to carry that responsibility and I know what that feels like. But you just have to dig your heels in and keep moving forward.”

Nguyen said he isn’t giving his new national title a thought. “To be honest, I’m just having the same mindset as usual, just have fun and do the best I can for both of my performances.”

He’s grown more this year, after shooting up about half a foot last year, but he’s an old pro at handling the changing length of his body. Still, it’s miraculous that the 16-year-old has added a quad Salchow so quickly. His work ethic is legendary. He’ll arrive in Shanghai well-trained and ready.

Recently, social media has shown Nguyen and training mate Javier Fernandez landing quad Salchows in synch at the Cricket Club where they train. They did it after the simulation. At first they had planned to do triple Axels in synch, but nah, why not go for the gusto?

The first time they tried it, Nguyen doubled his. The next time, they landed quad Salchows in the same breath. “It was just a really cool thing to do,” he said.

They did this, despite the fact that they have different entries going into that jump-. Nguyen does his from a basic forward three-turn. Fernandez launches himself from travelling Mohawks. “They had to do some synchronizing to get them to take off at the same time,” Orser said. “It’s fun. They do that every once in a while.”

As for the irrepressible Brown, he had to fend off questions about whether or not he can be competitive without the quad. Brown thinks he can. “I’ve gotten to compete against them [top skaters] for two years,” he said. “I have not had a quad those two years in the program. Every year, I compete a little bit stronger. Every year I’m more confident with what I have and my scores continue to grow. My goal is to continue to grow and put up scores that are very par and better than some people that put out the quad.”

He’s proud of the growing experience at trying the quad at Four Continents. “I think that was a big step forward for me,” he said. Since the Four Continents, he says he’s strengthened his programs, changing some of the patterns. Still, getting three men for Boston worlds is at the forefront of his mind. He’ll have  a tough task at this point trying to edge out quad experts like Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez and Denis Ten, who are going for medals.

Brown works on the quad every day, he says. He knows that to reach his ultimate goals, he’ll have to have that quad in the program. Just not yet.

“I’m going to get the quad some day and it’s going to be incredible,” he said. “I think I’ve been told multiple times I’m not able to reach a certain point without a quad. I was told for many years I couldn’t really do anything big on the junior circuit without a triple Axel, and I was able to win the Junior Grand Prix and medal at junior worlds. And I was told that without a quad, my chances of making the Olympic team were super low. And my chances of getting an Olympic medal were slim to none. I was able to turn some heads when I was less than a point out in the short program at the Olympics without a quad. I can’t afford to let myself think it’s not possible. I think if I skate the way I know I can skate, anything is possible.”

It’s the only way to think, quad or not.

The impossible dream


Obstacles, there have been many. Successes? More each day.

Russian-born Lubov Ilyushechkina and her Canadian pair partner, Dylan Moscovitch have come a long way from the time last spring when they matched forces, first without a coach, and perhaps with little hope that Russia would release their 2009 world junior pair champion.

But now they are going to their first world championship together, with a Canadian silver medal in their back pockets. Moscovitch has had plenty of experience at  world championships with a previous partner, but not Ilyushechkina. Moscovitch has been to Shanghai twice before for Cups of China. Ilyushechkina, never.

They’ve overcome every obstacle (or at least as much as they can in a short period) and best of all, they’ve won hearts along the way. Nobody can resist their story: underdogs with too much against them, finding their second chances – and doing it all with faces that shine.

Ilyushechkina, with her remarkably good English, drops little gems like this when she speaks: “At nationals, I was at the same rink that I compete at Skate Canada [in 2010, when she declared she was in love with the place] so I had good memories,” she said earlier this week. “”I came back and I had a feeling like I came to heaven.”

Moscovitch, now 30 years old, has undergone overwhelming change as well. “I switched clubs,” he said. “I switched coaches. Lubov was brought up in the Russian system with a different style and mentality of training and technique. For me, it was definitely an adjustment, and an eye opener into a different way of doing things.”

They started only with the goal of improving every day. “We didn’t really know much beyond that,” Moscovitch said. They knew they could get to Canadian nationals, but without Russia’s release, they wouldn’t see international competition. The release came last June. And when they were able to get a world minimum score at the Warsaw Cup, they immediately set a new goal of making the world team. They did.

They have no illusions of winning medals at the world championships this time. At the Four Continents, they finished sixth, almost 47 points behind Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the team that Moscovitch and his previous partner, Kirsten Moore-Towers, used to push within an inch of their lives. But this year is only a start.

“We are very proud we’ve come so far in such a short amount of time, with so many obstacles and racing uphill,” Moscovitch said. “We’re training very well and we feel great going into worlds and we just want to go there and enjoy every moment of it and do two clean skates. We are very capable of doing two clean skates.”

And of course, Ilyusechkina drops more pearls. “We don’t worry about placement because it distracts the mind,” she said. “We just need to go and enjoy, no matter where. Just go and do our job.”

The difficulties for Ilyushechkina? Apart from leaving her homeland, the skater, now 23, had spent 1 ½ years not skating at all in Russia, while teaching youngsters how to do crossovers and such like. She did no elements. She was a coach, near the boards, not skating out, not feeling the breeze in her hair, not flying above somebody’s head. She did try to stay in shape, with one dream in mind. “I didn’t want to finish,” she said. “I wanted to show everything what I could do in figure skating and open my potential.”

With Moscovitch, everything was new. Ilyushechkina tackled it all with delight, as if she’d been let loose from a cage. “I’m starting a new way,” she said. “I’m trying to take all the information and work in this country with this kind of figure skating and this kind of training. I’m trying to be a sponge and follow all advices.”

When she moved to Canada, she felt a lot of joy. It shows in her face every day. She hadn’t said everything she wanted to in figure skating. Following her dream “means a lot to me,” she said.

At her first Canadian championship, she felt welcomed with open arms. “All people very supportive,” she said. “I didn’t feel any pressure. It felt like an exhibition for people. I really enjoy being in Canada.”

The other issue was money. Moscovitch was no longer on a national team. His new partner had no access at all to funds. Moscovitch had begun to pay for everything out of his own pocket, until an adult skater at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club asked if they needed some help to find support. “Obviously, we said: ‘Yes’” Moscovitch said. “It was very much a necessity.

“The amount of people who have stepped up to help us financially this season is incredible,” he said. “We are very, very, very appreciative . We probably wouldn’t have been able to do this season without it.”

Their fund-raising campaign exists on social media. Moscovitch said many other athletes – always in need of financing – are starting to raise money this way to pay for their training.

They are still a work in progress and still moulding together their different techniques and different timings and setups for elements. Their most difficult element is, without question, the twist. At Four Continents, they earned level fours for every element but their triple twist, awarded a level one. And in the free skate, their twist let them down.

Moscovitch said the twist is an ongoing process because they’ve had to break old habits and try to find a way to meet in the middle. That hasn’t been easy. “The twist is very technical,” he said. “There are a lot of things going on with two different people at the same time. So if you’re not in synch and you’re not working together, you’re working against each other, which makes it a challenging element. We’ve been trying to make it cohesive and technically sound, so it’s less of a physical-work element and more of a technically efficient element.”

For now, they’ve had to put something together just enough to get the twist done, but at the same time, try not to sacrifice too much of the technique they are trying to build. “Every time we get a break in between competitions, we take some time to work on the technique and break it down a bit,” Moscovitch said. “And when we have a short amount of time, we piece it back together to the point that it’s good enough to compete with.”

They’ve made their most significant improvements between Four Continents and worlds in Shanghai.

Leading this fascinating melange of two completely different skaters into an impressive whole is coach Lee Barkell, now installed at the Cricket Club, and assisted by one of Moscovitch’s best friends and former competitors, Bryce Davison.

Ilyushechkina enjoys working with Barkell. “Lee doesn’t say a lot of things, “she said. “But he’s very stable and consistent. He knows the way we have to work and step by step, slowly and gradually he will bring us to the goal we want to reach.”

Barkell was a former international competitor with Melanie Gaylor, but is best known for the string of champions he has coached: Jeff Buttle, Duhamel, Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, Nobunari Oda, and others. Moscovitch says Barkell has “an incredible sense of calm and patience.  And he’s very good at seeing the big picture and working gradually towards it. He’s got a lot of knowledge and experience.

“We definitely feel we’re in good hands when we work with him.”

Their music choices reflect their life situations. They skate their short program to the upbeat Michael Buble song “Feeling Good.” And their free is “From Russia with Love.” Lubov means “love” in Russian. Perfect.

“I’m excited to perform one more time and to perform and enjoy,” Ilyushechkina said.

“We’ve got a second chance at our career,” Moscovitch said. “I think our biggest goal is to show everyone how much work we’ve put in with the short time we’ve been skating together and how happy we are that we ended up on the world team and that we are both together.”

Their journey is riveting, every step.


If I Only Had a Moustache

Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau are preparing for their first senior world championship with a big hairy problem.

After taking the silver medal at the world junior championships, yes, they are training intently, working on every element, making sure the senior version of their programs are up to snuff for Shanghai.

And Bilodeau is working as hard as possible, trying to grow a moustache for their short program on Wednesday. And that hirsute pursuit may be his hardest job.

Bilodeau wears a moustache for his portrayal of concierge Gustav H. as he and partner skate to music from “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a 2014 comedy. In fact, Bilodeau’s costume is an exact replica of Gustav’s garb in the movie. Gustav is known for his first-class service to guests, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. And he never stops smiling. Neither does Bilodeau during the routine. But in the weeks leading up to the short program, he may be gritting his teeth, hoping the fur on his upper lip will sprout as quickly as possible.


“How long did it take to grow that moustache?” he was asked earlier this year.

“Too long,” he said. Say, two, perhaps three weeks. He was spotted aboard his flight to Shanghai with what looked like a sparse version of a toothbrush beneath his nose. Hopefully the Shanghai air will help.

The problem is, the 21-year-old Bilodeau just doesn’t grow facial hair like say, Pancho Villa or Tom Selleck, or Hulk Hogan or Snidely Whiplash. Lord, it takes time for him. And after every short program, he shaves off that moustache for his long program. And then for the next competition he has to start all over again.

At issue is the short time between junior and senior world championships this month. It will be a race to the finish. “Maybe a costume one,” says Seguin, helpfully.

He has one ace up his sleeve: to help things along, even when he’s had lots of time to germinate the stash, he’ll add a little makeup to make it thicker. “My secret,” he said. (Not anymore.)

Well, so what? If truth be known, the moustaches of Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin were artificial for most of their careers.

Speaking of artificial moustaches, Seguin and Bilodeau have made the moustache a trademark of their very successful season. Even assistant coach Marc-Andre Craig sports a fake moustache during kiss-and-cry sessions.  Coach Josee Picard, who obviously has a funny bone beneath that serious  exterior, came up with the idea of skating to the moustache song from the 2014 comedy “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”

For their exhibition at the Grand Prix Final, Seguin and Bilodeau used a routine from last season. But Picard wanted something special for the Canadian championships. A week before the event, Picard thought: “It’s the perfect timing, and the perfect place for that music.” It was as if a lightbulb went on in her head.

They finished the routine the day before they left for Kingston, Ont., for the championship. And so much the better when they won the bronze medal at the championship and earned their way to Shanghai.

Seguin and Bilodeau come out in the gala with both their faces covered by neckerchiefs, so very western.  But very soon, the neckerchiefs were dropped, revealing both of them with fake, matching moustaches. (Bilodeau really didn’t have time to grow one after the long program this time!)

“You may long for love,” the song goes.

“You mustn’t all despair

For there’s a secret you should know

To capture the hearts of the fair.

You may not have the looks.

You may not have the dash

But you win yourself a girl, if you’ve only got a moustache.

A moustache. A moustache, if you’ve only got a moustache.”

Truthfully, research has shown that women find moustachioed men more attractive than clean-shaven ones. They don’t say what style of moustache works best on the opposite sex. Every year, somewhere, there is a world moustache championship and organizers have categorized them all: Hungarian (big and bushy); Dali (as in surrealist artist Salvador Dali, who published a book dedicated solely to his distinctive moustache), English (long and pulled to the side, curling upwards slightly); Imperial (ending in impossible curlicues); chevron (think Tom Selleck), Fu Manchu, Pancho Villa (thick and droopy), handlebar (self-explanatory), pencil (Gomez Addams on the Addams Family shows), toothbrush (Charlie Chaplin) and walrus (Mark Twain.)

And who can forget Movember, when men around the world during November grow moustaches to raise money for research into men’s diseases? They are called Mo Bros. and there are Moscars, too. Really, this moustache thing is getting quite out of hand.

The world record for the longest moustache belongs to an Indian man who avoided the shaving brush long enough to grow one 14 feet long.

Thankfully, Bilodeau isn’t in that contest.

Where is Yuzu? How is Yuzu?

With all the hubbub about the world figure skating championships to come next week, you might be wondering: “So where’s Yuzu?”

Well, the lithe, mosquito-waisted Olympic and world champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, has spent a great part of the season at home in Japan – not Canada where he has trained for his biggest triumphs – and is preparing for the world  championships in Shanghai, China, in an extremely unusual way: by correspondence with coach Brian Orser.

“I have not seen him at all,” said Orser the other day at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, adorned with banners cheering on European champ Javier Fernandez and new Canadian champion Nam Nguyen who train there. On Thursday, the club is staging a little world championship sendoff for its favourite sons – sans Hanyu.

“Yuzu has been faced with so many challenges this season,” Orser said. “His comfort zone is in Japan when he’s recovering from something.”

And he’s had much to recover from over the past seven months or so. It’s been an annus horribilis, as Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth has been known to say about the rocky roads that can assail a person’s psyche.

First a back injury caused his withdrawal from Finlandia Trophy. Then he collided with Chinese skater Han Yan during the warmup for the free skate at Cup of China last November. He skated with a bandage on his head, fell five times and stayed in Japan for recovery.

With the NHK just two weeks away, Hanyu remained in Japan. He started feeling intermittent pains in his abdomen, which seemed a mystery. But he completely triumphed in the Grand Prix Final, for an astounding 288.16-point win, 34.26 points more than his closest challenger, Javier Fernandez.

Next up? The Japanese championships, which he won by more than 30 points. Obviously, he did it with some pain. He was already scheduled for surgery a few days later to repair a urachal remnant, attached to his bladder. In other words, he suffered from a rare infliction, in which the fibrous remnant from his umbilical cord failed to dissolve as he became an adult.  Orser said Hanyu developed a cyst that became infected and had to be exised.

Fortunately, doctors did it by arthroscopic surgery, Orser said. “They didn’t have to cut any muscle, but they did have to cut the fascia.”

Although the hospital stay was expected to be two weeks with another four weeks away from the ice, Hanyu actually was laid up and off the ice for five weeks. Orser thinks Hanyu remained in hospital for most of that time. “I know that he has some allergies to a lot of medications, so he has to be careful about that,” he said.

The black clouds never parted. Soon after Hanyu returned to the ice, he sprained an ankle, perhaps because he began trying too much too soon. “Of course, it would be typical for him to want to get going and do everything right away,” Orser said. Coming back to Toronto to train didn’t seem to be an option.

None of this has put Orser in an ideal situation to prepare Hanyu to defend his world title next week. Orser says he hears from Hanyu by email every day.

”I’m giving him some things to think about and do on every session, and what kind of run-throughs to do,” Orser said. “I think at this stage, it’s just refreshing to have a little bit of instruction, rather than going out and wondering what you should do and how you feel. This way, you have a bit of a plan and you follow it.”

Currently, Hanyu is training by himself in Japan.  “It’s a little bit of a challenge,” he said. “He says he’s skating well and he’s doing his run-throughs, so that’s all I can ask for. I guess when I get there, I’ll see.”

Right now, Hanyu reports that his quad Salchow and his quad toe loop are just fine. Earlier in the season, he seemed to struggle with a triple Lutz. “We’ve discussed that through emails and he says it seems to be fine now,” Orser said.

Hanyu is relying on some video files on his iPad that remind him about the technique of jumps. He has a Lutz file. And a Salchow file. And a loop file. The only thing that worries Orser is the difficulty of finding motivation when skating by oneself. “But he’s pretty driven and I think he’s able to manage it,” Orser said. “I think he would prefer to be out there skating with Javi every day.”

Hanyu tells Orser he misses the club and “he misses us.” But the travel from Japan to Toronto is hard and strength-sapping. And the way it is now, Hanyu faces a one-hour flight to Shanghai in the same time zone, while Orser and the rest of his boys will be dragging their heels from the opposite side of the world. No matter, says Orser. They will arrive in enough time to have three good training days before the event starts.

At any rate, Orser feels he and Hanyu are back on track. He wants to cut Hanyu a lot of slack this year because it’s a post-Olympic year, he’s the Olympic champion, his life has changed and he has so many demands and responsibilities. “Hopefully we’ll get back on track for next season,” said the coach.

He feels his star pupil is feeling strong and that he’ll be ready when the trumpet sounds next week. Hanyu has a way of rising to the call, of battling magnificently. He’s done it twice during this terrible year.