November 01, 2014 - 1:40 PM
KELOWNA - On the heels of a pressure-cooker Sochi Olympic campaign, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford set a simple goal for this season — to enjoy skating, and not focus on winning.
The joy was there Friday for Canada's pairs team. And a victory came with it.
The two-time world bronze medallists won the short dance at Skate Canada International, bringing the Prospera Place crowd to its feet with their romantic rendition of "Un Peu Plus Haut" by Ginette Reno.
"It's a freedom, it's a sense of freedom to our skating, that's really our goal this year," Duhamel said. "It felt really great to go out there and really skate from our heart, and really let ourselves go."
"That's the calmest I've ever felt going into a Grand Prix," Radford said.
The Canadians scored 72.70 points, while China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong were second with 65.22, and Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were third with 64.14.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., won the short dance, while Javier Fernandez of Spain won the men's short program in a field missing Canada's Patrick Chan, and Anna Pogorilaya of Russia was first in the women's short.
Duhamel and Radford said looking back on last season, there was a "huge amount of pressure" on them as they carried medal expectations into Sochi.
"We always tried to convince ourselves that it wasn't there, but now being here and looking back, I can see just how much pressure there was, and how heavy our skating was," said Radford, who was seventh in Sochi with Duhamel.
"We're at this point in our lives and our career, we're only coming to the rink because we enjoy it," Duhamel added. "Last year we were scared. We would go on the ice feeling very scared. And fearful. And that's not fun."
The two have struggled with their short program at Skate Canada in the past, but their only noticeable bobble Friday was on the side-by-side triple Lutzes — Duhamel narrowly avoided hitting the boards on her landing.
"I was really focused on taking my time when I went into the jump and waited until I was calm and everything was placed well and maybe I waited a little too long before putting my toe pick in," Duhamel said.
The months after Sochi saw the 28-year-old Duhamel become engaged, get a new dog, a new car and a new condo. The two also worked on, and finally mastered, a rare quadruple throw Salchow, which they'll perform in their long program Saturday.
In Kelowna, the two are enjoying a spotlight that hasn't always shone on pairs skaters.
"Every time we came here, it was Tessa and Scott (ice dancers Virtue and Moir) and Patrick (Chan). It's kind of been that way for the last four years, and we were that outside chance of having a bronze medal somewhere," said the 29-year-old Radford. "Now I think we've done a good job of stepping into that limelight, especially with the quad (throw).
"We understand we're one of the top teams throughout the disciplines in Canada, and I think we take that responsibility seriously and it's exciting for us to have a little bit more focus on us, and especially on pairs in Canada."
Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and her new partner Michael Marinaro of Waterloo, Ont., meanwhile, were sixth. Brittany Jones of Toronto and Joshua Reagan of Waterloo, Ont., were seventh.
"It was alright," Moore-Towers said — her frown said otherwise. "We hit all of our big stuff but it was the little things that we let get away from us a little bit, so we're disappointed in that, but overall it was a good start. Starting over is hard, and we're learning that here."
Moore-Towers was fifth in Sochi with Dylan Moscovitch, but the two split because Moscovitch didn't want to commit to Moore-Towers' goal of skating in two more Olympics. She and Marinaro joined forces about five months ago.
"It's all hard," Moore-Towers said on working with a new partner. "Reworking the elements is difficult, figuring out how each other does things is a little bit tricky. But it's worth it, in the end. We'll get there."
Weaver and Poje, meanwhile, scored 68.61 to take an almost-nine point lead into Saturday's free dance.
The Canadians said they were nervous skating last, as the No. 1-ranked team.
"However we were drawing so much energy from the amazing crowd, and we felt right at home in front of the Canadian audience," Weaver said.
Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin of Russia were second with 59.62, while Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third (59.29).
Piper Gilles of Toronto and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., were fourth, while Elisabeth Paradis of Montreal and Francois-Xavier Ouellette of Laval, Que., were eighth.
Fernandez, meanwhile, landed a beautiful quadruple Salchow to open his program but doubled his planned triple Axel to score 86.36 points, entertaining the crowd with his rock-and-roll routine to Ram Jam's "Black Betty."
"It was the first time I'd ever performed "Black Betty" in a competition," said Fernandez, who wore a black T-shirt over black pants. "I think I did a good job, I didn't do the triple Axel, and I had a little trouble in one of the spins, but the program had good energy and for the first time it was great."
Takahito Mura of Japan was second with 82.57, while Konstantin Menshov of Russia was third with 81.70.
Andrei Rogozine of Newmarket, Ont., was ninth, while Liam Firus of North Vancouver, B.C., was 10th.
Chan, who is taking a season off from competition, had won four of the six previous Skate Canada Grand Prix events. The 23-year-old Fernandez, who lives in Toronto and trains with Canadian coach Brian Orser, beat Chan at the event in Windsor, Ont., in 2012.
Rogozine, meanwhile, was a last-minute substitute after Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., withdrew due to his ongoing equipment trouble.
"It's just given me more opportunity to skate internationally," Rogozine said. "My goal is still to try to aim for the top and be the best, so this is just a little boost on the path."
Reynolds has had trouble finding skates that fit properly, and was already onto his fourth pair this season when he pulled out of the event.
In women's singles, Pogorilaya takes a score of 65.28 into Saturday's long program. American Ashley Wagner was second with 63.86, while Alena Leonova was third with 62.54.
Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., was sixth, while Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., was seventh, and Julianne Seguin of Longueuil, Que., ninth.
Skate Canada International is the second of six events on the ISU Grand Prix circuit. The top six competitors in each discipline qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in December.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2014