Friends and rivals, Canadian pair teams set to live Olympic dream in Sochi

Mere seconds before the defining skate of his life, Dylan Moscovitch almost went looking for a hug.

Stepping on to the ice with partner Kirsten Moore-Towers for their pair free program at last month’s Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Ottawa, Moscovitch stole a glance at the kiss and cry. Close friends Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, who had just heard their free program marks, were caught up in the emotion of having just guaranteed themselves a spot on the podium – and, with it, all but locking up a berth on the Canadian Olympic Team.

As Lawrence succumbed to the emotion of the moment and wept, Moscovitch, for a fleeting second, wanted nothing more than to show a little love.

“I looked over at them in the kiss and cry, and saw Paige crying, and I was like ‘wait, wait, I can’t skate yet, I have to go hug them’,” laughs Moscovitch.

Such is life for Canada’s trio of pair entries at these Sochi Games, with three-time Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford joining Moore-Towers, Moscovitch, Lawrence and Swiegers to carry Canada’s hopes in the event. Competitors and rivals, teammates and friends, each will realize their own dreams Tuesday when the individual pair competition – an oxymoron necessitated thanks to the just-completed team event, where Canada claimed silver – gets underway at the spectacular Iceberg Skating Palace.

Press rewind to that Saturday night special in Ottawa last month. During the free program, all Moore-Towers and Moscovitch did was go out and set a new Canadian record, seemingly setting the table for their second national title.

Not so fast.

That record lasted about five minutes, before Duhamel and Radford broke it again to pull off a national title three-peat. It was skating’s version of history repeating itself. The previous January, at the Canadian championships in Mississauga, Ont., Moore-Towers and Moscovitch shattered what was then the Canadian record, only to have Duhamel and Radford topple it minutes later.

For those keeping score, Moore-Towers and Moscovitch have the unique distinction of owning two Canadian records for about ten minutes combined – and have a pair of silver medals to show for it.

When Moore-Towers and Moscovitch won their Canadian crown in 2011, it was Duhamel and Radford taking silver.

Radford has called Moscovitch “my best friend and archrival”.

“They’re very good and I think they’re a major key to why Eric and I are as good as we are,” Duhamel says of Moore-Towers and Moscovitch. “I think that whether they know it or not, they push us and they make us better. It’s great the rivalry we’ve created.”

“Canadian pairs skating is definitely at a high right now and we’re proud to be pushing one another,” adds Moore-Towers. “They push us and never make it easy on us and I think we do the same.”

For the better part of the past four seasons, the two teams have waged a back and forth battle for Canadian pair supremacy, with Duhamel and Radford holding the slimmest of upper hands. Quietly, without the fanfare and attention given their pair teammates at these Olympics, Lawrence and Swiegers have been writing their own storyline. The bronze in Ottawa was their fourth consecutive third-place showing at the national championships.

Off the ice, Moore-Towers, Moscovitch, Lawrence and Swiegers have formed an unbreakable bond, a friendship that is bigger than the colour of the medal draped around their necks.

“I think I was as happy for them (Lawrence and Swiegers) making the Olympic team as I was for us,” says Moscovitch. “We’ve all grown up in this sport together, so to see us realize our dream together is great. We get to share it with close friends, which makes it pretty special.”

“When it comes to the program, we leave it out there,” says Swiegers. “We do our best, and let the cards fall where they may. We’re all great friends, and we’ve all worked hard to get here. We’re going to enjoy it.”

The three teams will carry the Canadian flag at the pair competition at these Games, and realize they have their work cut out for them. Not only is there the unenviable task of trying to put a chink in the armour of reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia, but also trying to block the path to the podium will be four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

Not exactly a lot of elbow room to squeeze into the medal ceremony, although Duhamel and Radford will carry the confidence of a bronze medal earned at last year’s ISU World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont.

As one would almost expect, Moore-Towers and Moscovitch were right on their heels in London, placing fourth. Old habits die hard, as they say.

In their post-event press conference in Ottawa, Moore-Towers and Moscovitch light-heartedly lamented their short-lived Canadian record, their second in as many years.

“I’d like to keep the record one of these times,” laughed Moscovitch.

A little joke between friends.

And rivals.

Marty Henwood

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