Duhamel and Radford golden

BOSTON, Ma.

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.

Fernandez: skate of a lifetime

BOSTON, Ma.

Yuzuru Hanyu doesn’t live in a normal world.

On Saturday night, after the men’s free program, Japanese fans waited and waited for a chance to see their fallen hero, who had squandered a 12-point lead after the men’s short – to win the silver medal, not the gold.

No matter. Well past midnight, the Japanese fans gathered at the TD Garden tunnel where the athlete buses churn to and fro. Because of Hanyu’s rock star status and all that goes with it, he had his very own shuttle, a large bus with an entourage and a burly security guard. He’s Justin Bieber on skates.

The fans were waiting at the other end of the trip, at the hotel, too. And as the bus chugged up, the fans ran. Hanyu raced past them, eyes straight ahead. Protected.

After demolishing world records left and right all season, Hanyu has been viewed as somewhat of a skating god. He indeed has a set of scary-good talents. So when he chalked up that mighty lead, (some say the largest of any discipline in world championship history,) others may have been thinking about fighting a separate contest, with Hanyu in a league all his own.

But in the bright lights of the “Gahden,” chock full of fans up to the rafters, things changed in a hurry. It wasn’t Hanyu’s night. Nor was it Patrick Chan’s night. Nor Maxim Kovtun’s. Nor Shoma Uno’s. Nor Denis Ten’s. And neither Han Yan nor former world No. 5 Nam Nguyen even made it to the long-program round.

The last two groups rocked the place. Max Aaron, former U.S. champion landed a dynamic quad Salchow-triple toe loop to finish up with 172.86 for the free, and 254.14 overall, to finish eighth. Standing ovation.

U.S. champion Adam Rippon was a new Adam Rippon this year, having shaken off all that hobbled him in the past. He was fitter than he’s ever been. More confident. Last summer he told Jeff Buttle he wanted music that would lead him to win the U.S. title and to fly at worlds in Boston, at home.

Buttle picked “Blackbird,” the Beatles song that goes:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night.
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Rippon said later that he actually heard those words as he competed Saturday night. He went for the gusto early, for that pesky quad Lutz that has always eluded him and in the free program, he landed it on one foot, although it was underrotated. He knew it was. “But I kept going,” he said.

He said before he went out, he felt like taking a nap. “Just let your training kick in,” said coach Rafael Arutunian. Rippon felt very nervous. He was shaky in his warmup. “I fought through everything but at the same time, I tried to have the best time ever and I did.” He finished fourth in the free skate with 178.72 points, ahead of Chan. Thunderous standing ovation.

A third U.S. man, Grant Hochstein, a replacement for the injured Nathan Chen, also sparkled and finished ninth with 162.44 points. He landed a quad toe loop and as he went on, continuing to land more and more jumps, the crowd roar started. He had a hand down on a triple Axel. The crowd was on its feet before he finished.

This meant that the host United States had placed three men in the top 10. But their sixth (Rippon overall), eighth (Aaron) and tenth (Hochstein) meant that the country fell one point short of getting three men to the Olympic qualifying world championships next year. Rippon had finished only 2.31 points behind Chan. Of course, the hubbub started that Chan was overmarked, having snared a perfect 10 from a judge for interpretation.

In component marks, Fernandez led the way with 98.36 points, with Chan second (92.60), Hanyu third (92.02), Shoma Uno fourth (86.58), Rippon fifth (85.64), and exciting Russian newbie Mikhail Kolyada sixth (84.64.) Should Rippon have had higher components? Possibly? Should Uno have had lower?(He skates a lot on two feet). Perhaps. (And Boyang Jin getting 76.14 for components? He hasn’t developed this side of himself much at all.)

Technically, Chan bumbled and fumbled on ice he said didn’t match his unique way of going. Instead of his opening quad toe –triple toe loop combo, he eked out a triple toe loop. He did get the triple Axel in. He landed his next quad and gallantly tried to put a triple toe loop on the end of it, but he was close to the boards and stepped out of it. His second triple Axel combo turned into a single Axel – double toe loop. He doubled a flip. Points bled away, heavily. He was only eleventh best technically on the night (79.31).

Let’s have a fun look at the technical virtuosos. Fernandez of course, led with a stunning 118.05 points followed by: Jin, second (104.99 – after stepping out of his quad Lutz, landing a quad Salchow, holding on for dear life to a quad toe that was supposed to be in combination, but wasn’t, and bravely tacking a double toe loop onto his fourth quad, a toe loop), Kolyada, third (93.67), Hanyu fourth (93.59), Aaron fifth (93.16), Rippon sixth (93.08), Shoma Uno seventh (87.93), Grant Hochstein eighth, believe it or not (85.02), Alexei Bychenko of Israel, ninth (82.57) and Michal Brezina, tenth (81.12).

The judges’ panel for the long program included no Russians, no Canadians or Americans. The panel was Europe heavy, with officials from Sweden, Israel, Italy, Germany, France and Ukraine and also South Korea and Kazakhstan.

The doors came off the competition when Hanyu, second to skate in the final group, put a hand down on his opening quad. There was an intake of breath. Then he fell on his third quad, the Salchow in combo with a double toe loop. It was called a repeated jump because he didn’t do it in combination, so that was worth only 4.09, a very costly fall. (Fernandez’s quad Salchow-triple toe loop was worth 14.80 before GOE was applied.) Then he singled a triple Salchow at the end of a triple Axel series. He put a hand down on a triple Lutz. It was so unlike Hanyu, except when you recall his Olympic free skate. He had opened the door wide for Chan in Sochi. And Chan didn’t take it. Just the same as he didn’t take it in Boston.

Hanyu choked down the news of getting only 184. 61 for his free, which is 34.87 points short of his world record (219.48) and he ended up with 295.17 overall, 35.26 lower than that record, too (330.43.)

Coach Brian Orser said he was expecting at least a repeat of the Grand Prix Final when Hanyu set his most recent world records. And he’d upped the technical content a little by doing two quads Salchows and a quad toe loop instead of two quad toes and one quad Salchow.

“I thought we would see the usual from Yuzu, which would be just about everything,” Orser said. “I was a little bit surprised because he was in a little bit better shape than what we saw. He’s very disappointed.”

Hanyu was a little nervous before he skated, and he was slow getting to his starting position, taking almost the entire allotted 30 seconds. His warmup was good but “not out of this world,” Orser said.

But then, Hanyu is always nervous, Orser added. Orser sensed Hanyu’s nervousness at an early practice, but it’s not unusual.

“There’s not one particular thing that went wrong with Yuzu,” Orser said.

“I can’t explain my feelings,”Hanyu said. But he’s regretful.

“I am really sad, and I am really happy for Javi’s program. I know I am happy [for him] but I am really sorry for my long. I want to do it again.

Hanyu said he felt calm before the free skate, but that he hasn’t hit the sweet spot and the balance between mental and physical condition. Throughout his performance, he admitted he was nervous.

Then came Fernandez and the performance of the ages. Perhaps one of the best clutch performances of all time. Reminiscent of Donald Jackson at the 1962 world championship in Prague, where he was considerably behind after compulsory figures. Jackson had to be perfect to win and he delivered a string of 6.0s and the first triple Lutz in competition history.

Fernandez, perhaps one of the most under-the-radar world champions since his victory last year, had his own troubles to worry about. A month before Boston, he developed a bursa on the heel of his right foot – his landing foot. It’s an annoying, painful, ugly goose egg thing caused by friction.

Fernandez had taken 24 hours off when it first caused him trouble and when he returned, it was fine.

But not forever. It flared up again. Fernandez tried the same treatment, a little Advil and rest, but it didn’t help.

“When he bends his ankle, it pushes the heel back and it hurts,” Orser said.

Fernandez took a day off practice on Thursday. But at Friday morning practice, he skated little. He spent his time fiddling with the boot, to no avail, trying all sorts of last-minute things. Fernandez started to panic. Orser said his face began to turn white.

“Okay, now we need to get some medical attention,” Orser said. “And I need to talk him through it.”

So the afternoon of the men’s final, Fernandez spent hours with the event’s medical team, who gave him a pad to place in his boot and treated the problem. “It kind of occupied him and he was getting lots of attention, which he likes,” Orser said with a smile.

It all shortened the wait. “You can sit in the hotel room and just awful-ize the situation about where it’s going to hurt,” Orser said. Eventually, Fernandez went back to the hotel, took a nap, had dinner and then it was time to head to the rink. Orser also persuaded him that his best long program runthoughs came on Mondays, after he took the weekend off. He framed it positively.

Fernandez said he didn’t think about how important it was for him to win. “I just kept going from jump to jump,” he said. He did three marvelous quads. He sold the program. He was charming.

“It was not an easy day,” he said later. “It was not an easy month.” He knew that he had to do the best skate in his life to defeat Hanyu. He told himself that it was the last competition of the season. That helped him through.

Gracious in victory, gracious in defeat, Fernandez gave credit to Orser for his victory. “Brian is the person with us every single day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we are in a good mood or a bad mood, or if we do a good practice or a terrible practice – he is the person that is helping you no matter what. They [the coaches] want you to be better every single day.

“I saw that Yuzuru was training every day to be the world champion and not every time you can do what you’re planning to do. “

He said he does not know how he was able to overcome his heel problem and win. ‘I think sometimes we feel so strong that it doesn’t matter what happened before,” Fernandez said. He hadn’t known how Hanyu had skated.

Chan skated last, but just like at Four Continents, he encountered ice that did not suit his stroking style. He was the last skater of 12, with no ice resurfacing and a couple of six-minute warmups.

“I feel really stupid for talking about it,” Chan said “But the ice just wasn’t to my favourite specifications.”

He said the ice appeared white and frosty, with no shine or slip. The ruts were a serious issue. “I couldn’t be confident when I stepped forward to get my edge that the edge would go straight,” he said. The blade would skip and jump over a bump.

Chan said he needed to use the flex in the ice to get his movement over it. In a perfect world “it almost rebounds me and gives me speed into my jumps.”

It wasn’t a good day for Chan but he’s happy to be back. It’s not often anymore that skaters see fans in seats up to the rafters in a NHL-sized rink. The sound poured off a warm crowd.

Still, “it stinks to be fifth,” Chan said.

Meanwhile back in the green room, where skaters sit after they skate, Fernandez said to a crestfallen Hanyu: “It’s okay Yuzu. You still have lots of time to beat me.”

Fernandez has now won two world championships. Hanyu has won only one, but he’s the 2014 Olympic champion. They are about even and will watch each other at the same rink in Toronto every day.

For now, Chan is on the outside looking in. But he knew it was a tall task to defeat the entire field in his first season back.

Pair short, Boston

BOSTON, Ma.

“Enough is enough,” said Meagan Duhamel. Both she and her partner Eric Radford had enough of the cloying feelings of frustration this season when they finished a program and looked at each other, regret in the air.

Not this time. After the national championships, Duhamel and Radford sat down with choreographer, light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel skatingmeister Julie Marcotte and they found a way.

She told them to stay quiet on the inside. In the school in which they train in Montreal, there is chaos all around them. It has a lot of top students. But Duhamel and Radford hadn’t been staying calm. They needed to find quietude inside themselves.

Coach Bruno Marcotte said the 2015 world champions had also lost their focus of last year, focusing too much on the comeback of Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, they of the multiple maximized points. And they thought about the other Russians, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who had apparently taken the remainder of last season off in search of a quad.

Duhamel and Radford had been on a roller coaster all season. The decision came that they must focus on each other, and a personal best routine, and forget about all of the rest.

To find this quiet spot, Duhamel does not use a key word as many athletes use. She touches her stomach to find her inner calmness.

They were ready to slay dragons with this new approach at the Four Continents, but Duhamel fell ill with an apparent case of the flu.

So they used it here. “We’ve been getting sick of finishing that short program feeling frustrated,” Duhamel said.

In Boston, Duhamel said she didn’t care if she “was upside down on the Lutz, I was landing it.”

End of story.

“We were really determined,” she said. “And focused.”

With this approach, Duhamel and Radford finished second in the short with a personal best of 78.18 points, only 2.67 points behind the flawless Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who won with 80.85, also a best for them.

The Canadians hadn’t spoken one word about the Russians. And for the first time in their career, they finished ahead of Volosozhar and Trankov by about a point.

Trankov thought he and wife/partner had skated their Bollywood routine well, and is okay at sitting in third place. He knew they had made a big mistake on their throw, with Volosozhar landing the triple flip on two feet and not subtly.

But he was taken aback when the technical folks up on the judges’ stand gave them only a level three on their lofty triple twist. They had always maxed out the levels on this soaring move, at level four.

“It’s the first time we got level three for twist,” he said. “It was a big surprise for us. We are a little disappointed with this.”

However, Trankov said he and Volosozhar aren’t seeking any more medals. They have already won two Olympic gold (team and individual) at home in Sochi. They had teamed up for Sochi. Now, it is all about the process, the skating, the exploring. They are okay with third.

Volosozhar and Trankov earned the highest component score of 37.16, ahead of the Chinese at 36.97. The Chinese worked hard at improving this side of their skate.

Three years ago, they began to train with 2010 Olympic pair champion Zhao Hongbo because they felt they had some shortcomings he could solve.
“We decided to follow whatever he said,” Han said.

“He told us many things about how to cooperate with your partner, so we can improve the unison,” Han said.

He also got them into working on their skating skills, and they do so, more than any other Chinese team, Han said.
“We don’t want to think too much about placement or scores,” Han said.

Asked when they fully began to find chemistry together, Sui and Han comically misunderstood the question. They started talking about their personal relationship.

“There isn’t any chemistry between us,” Sui said.

“That was a joke,” Han said, after a little consultation.

But no, Sui said. Han is like a cousin, a father figure to her. (He is three years older.) “He talks too much every day,” she said.

Asked to direct their thoughts to a more professional relationship or chemistry between them, Han paused to think.

Trankov looked over at Han and said: “Be very careful,” he said.

“First there is chemistry when you skate. Then you get married,” he said., referring to his relationship with Volosozhar.

He said he and Volosozhar might think about having a baby by the next Olympics.

Marcotte let it slip that Duhamel and Radford might work on a throw triple Axel next year.

The other magical moment of the event: the dizzying triple twist delivered by new team Aliona Savchenko (now relaxed and happy looking) and Bruno Massot, who finished fourth with 74.22 points. It’s a happy story indeed.