Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford will try to win their fifth Canadian pair title next week by giving their throw quad Lutz a rest, at least for the time being and by delivering slick, confident performances, starting off with a re-jigged short program.
Yes, they are defending their national title once again, but then Duhamel and Radford have spent the entire season defending everything, considering that they won everything they contested last season, including their first world title last March.
Usually, they’ve had to defend only their Canadian title, and that was never easy, because Kirsten-Moore Towers and Dylan Moscovitch had always been nipping at their heels. Now it’s on a bigger scale. Last month, they had to defend their Grand Prix Final title – and they emerged from the competition in Barcelona with a silver medal behind rejuvenated Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov.
“We had people coming up to us, saying: ‘You’ll do better next time,’” Duhamel said. “But I had just won a silver medal at the Grand Prix Final. We didn’t think of it as failure. People are so used to us winning, but really, to us, it wasn’t a failure.” They were proud of their effort in the long program after a stumble in the short.
In the short, Duhamel landed her triple Lutz jump low on one knee, and then fell on the throw triple Lutz. Still, they were only 2.10 away from first place. They would rather give themselves a cushion after the short. They were third in the short, and finished second in the long after Duhamel stepped out of a throw triple Lutz and put a foot down at the end of their three-jump combo. They did land a very good throw quad Salchow.
Duhamel and Radford would also like to re-create the magic of last season, but it is proving impossible. Radford can’t put his finger on it, no matter how hard he tries to convince himself that he doesn’t care about results – the key to their success last year, when they just let things go, focused on their job and let the marks fall where they may.
“When you come into a new season, nothing is going to be the same,” Radford said. But he can no longer tell himself not to care. “Everybody is looking at you and expecting you to win,” he said. The Grand Prix Final was their first loss in a long time. “But we are still alive,” he said. They’re still pushing, and improving.
They could have taken the easy road and kept their old programs and coasted along this season, in the same drift as last year. But no. they had to try to put that throw quad Lutz thing into the mix for the first time, and had they landed it, they would have been the first to do two quad throws in a program. That Lutz, however, has been suffering from irritable throw syndrome.
They are still training it and on Tuesday, they landed one in practice. They hope to have it ready for the world championships.
Now it’s humming along the way it did last summer. Duhamel admits that it went through a rather freaky autumn. Now it’s starting to feel more natural. They agree that it’s better to set it aside and use the national championship to ratchet up their confidence, for an assault on the world stage later.
Instead, the world champs are enhancing what they do have, especially in the short program, to show improvement over a Grand Prix season that left them feeling unsettled and uncomfortable.
Their mistakes in the short program at Grand Prix Final prompted their decision to make changes for nationals. “We learn from every experience, good or bad,” Duhamel said. “The Russians delivered a great long program. They skated better than us, cleaner than us.”
In their short, they’ve shuffled some elements, strengthened others. They’ve put the Lutz earlier and added steps to it. They had been telegraphing it for five or six feet, and now that element will come in the centre of the ice, not at the end. They’ve moved a death spiral to the end of the routine, where only a lift had been. They’ve changed their footwork to be more musical and add quality.
If they have made any changes to the long, it’s to improve the entrances on both of their throws, including the throw quad Salchow. They’ve made them much less telegraphed and more fluid. Their work between the elements? They’ve improved the fluidity there, too. “Everything is more creative, takes less time, appears smoother and lighter,” Radford said. The entrance to their throw triple Lutz is the same as in the short program, but with a few more steps into it.”
The restructuring has led to a feeling of comfort, which makes it easier to skate clean. “Everything is right where we want it,” Radford said. When an element is comfortable, they don’t even have to think about it. When they are too aware, in a high-risk situation, there is more risk of a mistake. They feel a big difference. The routines breathe more. This gives them the confidence they need.
The only thing they could not control was a goofy little incident that happened on Tuesday when Radford was working in the gym. He was jumping off one box and onto another, when his foot slipped, and he put out his hands to avoid planting his face into a wall.
However, the impact bent the middle finger of his right hand backwards. He now has a sprain and is practicing with the finger taped to the next one for stability. It’s painful.
“It’s really annoying to have that problem, especially this close to nationals,” he said.
He found out Wednesday morning just how much he uses his left hand. Unusually, his right hand does the bulk of the work. He’ll feel it during a lift when Duhamel shifts her weight from one side to the other. And their throw Salchow is released from his left hand with a lot of force. He’ll just let the sprain heal as much as possible. He’ll manage. Many skaters compete with little aches and pains. This is just another one, to him. And they have done run-throughs with no issues even with the little annoyance.
The good news: the pair short program doesn’t take place until Friday, January 22, with the free program going the next day. The finger will have almost two weeks to heal.
All this being said, Duhamel says they feel much more settled and comfortable than they did during the Grand Prix season. They had great results early in the season, but didn’t really skate their best. They hope to change all that next week in Halifax.