Duhamel and Radford take small lead after the pair short program at Skate Canada International

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – It was just that kind of day. In the midst of a press conference for the pair short program, a water pipe above the dais spontaneously spewed forth some a goodly amount of H2O upon the winners, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

‘I’m having a bad day,” said Duhamel, after having stumbled out of a side-by-side triple Lutz and then pitching two hands down on the landing of a throw triple Lutz at Skate Canada, the second of six Grand Prix events. This is what you get for missing your triple Lutz,” she said.

Lutzes out of control or not, Duhamel and Radford are leading the chase, albeit by only .15 points over an Italian team compromised by missing skates during practice day yesterday and on Wednesday too. Only .55 points separate the top three. They are essentially tied going into the long program on Saturday.

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy are in second place with 69.38 points, their personal best mark, behind Duhamel and Radford with 69.57. In third place are Chinese skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong with 69.02. The Chinese had missed most of last season while Sui was suffering from epiphysitis, a growth plate injury. Sui is back, healed now and can do everything, says Han.

Eventually, all three teams had to move off the dais for the remainder of the conference, with Hotarek fielding the microphone to skaters and reporters in the room. “I feel like a stand-up comic,” he said. (Later, organizers moved the podium further forward so that the leaky water pipe was out of range.)

Duhamel and Radford acknowledged their mistakes philosophically and put things in perspective. “If we had skated clean, it would have spooked us,” Duhamel said. “We don’t start our season like that.”

On the bright side, Duhamel and Radford achieved a level three for their triple twist: a goal.

Last season, the Canadian champions had learned a formula for their progression: by nationals, things begin to really hum. So far, this season, they feel prepared, their mistakes this time were uncharacteristic, and they hadn’t anticipated them. “But I think the flow was better and our second mark (31.96) is right around where we finished last season,” Radford said.

Besides, last year at Skate Canada, with a clean program, they earned a score of 64. By season’s end, at the world championships, when they won the bronze medal, they pushed their short program score to 73. With a 69, they’re convinced their work over the summer is paying off, and they hope to climb into the high 70s by nationals.

They are accustomed to tight scores after the short: at the 2012 national championships in Moncton, N.B. there was essentially a three-way tie for first, too, they won the gold medal.

What is different, is that Duhamel and Radford were skating to Tribute, music that Radford had composed himself. He admits that it felt unusual to hear his own music. He felt a chill when he started the footwork section and the music rose to a crescendo and another at the beginning of the death spiral. Many felt a chill in the opening notes of the music Radford wrote in honour of the coach that taught him much about skating, Paul Wirtz, who died several years ago.

As for the likeable Italians, Hotarek said he felt tired at the beginning of the routine to The Mask. (That explains his neon yellow pants, hoofed up past his waist with suspenders.). “I was a little tired, but I just hold Steffi’s hand and she was so strong and she just said go and do it because we can.” He said. “I really must thank her today. It was a really good day.”

The pair had the crowd gasping with their reverse lasso lift, as Hotarek hoists his tiny partner above his head and then holds her with one hand as she sinks into a position in which her feet are higher than her head –a very high-risk manoeuver.

Hotarek said he would not have attempted such a move if he was unable to get his skates, lost in baggage while leaving Detroit for Canada. Hotarek ended up in Saint John and the mislabelled bag went to Chicago, a city where neither has been.

Hotarek skated the first of two practices on Thursday while wearing a spare pair of skates owned by men’s skater, Ross Minor, but Hotarek felt uneasy because the blade position was foreign to him. He was about to switch to a spare pair from Patrick Chan, but then, with the help of an ISU official who personally called and was able to trace the bags, when Hotarek got his skates back late Thursday, he was up for action.

The ISU allowed the Italians to have a special practice after the day of practices finished on Thursday. It was special indeed. The Italians skated as if on wings. They did their crazy lift twice.

Third place Sui and Han drew very high marks for their throw triple flip and had no minus marks at all. They had just left their long-time coach, Lo Buan for well-known pair coach Yao Bin, and his new coaching mate, Zhao Hongbo, who won the pairs gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics with Shen Xue. “We learn more and more how to skate” Han said. “It makes us grow up.”

Paige Lawrence of Kipling, Sask. And Rudi Swiegers of Virden, Man., finished sixth of eight teams after she touched hands down on an under-rotated triple toe loop and fell on a throw triple Lutz.

The pair has had to adjust their training schedule because of Lawrence’s injuries: she suffered a strained Achilles tendon during the summer on her left landing foot. That improved, but she compensated for the injury and strained her groin/hamstring muscles. She wore a heavily taped left thigh last night. They’ve spent a few months focusing on choreography and performance, because they had to make the best of it.

Margaret Purdy of Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont., the world junior silver medalists skating in only their second senior international event, had a rough day, when she landed a triple toe loop on two feet, and they aborted a lift. They too, have suffered injuries. Purdy injured a shoulder during the summer and had only two weeks training time before they competed at Skate America last week.


Beverley Smith

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