The last Olympic season was a year like no other for pair skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. They lived their lives amidst stress and tension at every corner.

The last Olympic season was a year like no other for pair skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. They lived their lives amidst stress and tension at every corner.

Every minute was so important that Radford found himself looking both ways four times before he crossed a street. Even taking special care when he descended a flight of stairs. Anything to avoid injury and setback in such an important season. They fought for every point. They fought to please the judges. There seemed to be more downs than ups. After Duhamel returned home from her season, she slept for four or five days, exhausted.

Not anymore. “I feel lighter, freer,” said Radford, after a practice session in Montreal. “Skating is not going to control my life the way it did the last four years. I still love to do it, and I will always be grateful and will skate my best. But it won’t define the way I feel and how I see myself.”

They were truly burned out after last season. They needed a break. They took the entire month of June off, Radford taking a holiday in Tel Aviv, Duhamel buying a condo and celebrating an engagement to coach Bruno Marcotte.

“We had our Olympic run and it was great,” Radford said. “We’ve achieved everything we wanted to [two bronze world medals, an Olympic silver team medal]. We have all the hardware we want. But we love it and we are still hungry.”

After the exhaustion of the last four years, it was just too difficult, at first, to commit to another Olympics, so they thought they’d go one more year and assess. But a flurry of national and international pair breakups, and pair formations astonished the world, and even Duhamel and Radford. Radford calls it “the hunger games of pair skating.” But it changed everything for them.

“It was like we were the only ones left in Canada,” Radford said. “And there were just a couple of teams left in the world. We thought maybe we should hang on for another four years. Maybe we can have a really substantial career.”

So on they go. They have some new goals now: to get to the Grand Prix Final, win more world medals. But these goals are different from the goals they had before. “We want to have a season without stress and pressure,” Duhamel said.

For some time, they have admired the poise of Chinese world pair champions Qing Pang and Tong Jian. They would watch them at practices and marvel at their calmness, as if they really didn’t care, didn’t worry about anything. Then come competition time, they would see Pang and Tong skate with beautiful freedom. “I want to know what that feels like,” Duhamel said.

They will now skate for themselves, for each other. They did this at the world championships in Saitama, when the pressure was off. Skating with a sense of liberation, Duhamel and Radford actually skated better than they did at the Olympics, where they finished seventh overall – not what they wanted – and their marks went up. They finished second in the short, ahead of Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov. And they took their second bronze medal with ease, finally presenting their “Alice in Wonderland” program the way they wanted to.

“We will skate as well as we can and whatever happens, happens,” Radford said. “There will be people who like us. And there will be people who don’t like us. It’s liberating.”

“We just want to leave the ice and be happy,” Duhamel said.

And – Radford admits – there is also less pressure on them, now that Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch – a team that always pushed them mercilessly – are no longer skating together.  “I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit of relief when I heard they weren’t skating together,” Radford said. “It was very stressful. They did push us a lot. Some people might think that if they are not there to push us, we will relax [too much], but Meagan and I don’t know how to just coast. We could be stranded on a desert island, but we’d be pushing every day.”

Still, he knows he will be able to relax over Christmas, and not worry so much about the national championships only a couple of weeks later.

Truthfully, Moore-Towers and Moscovitch shook up their rivals last season tremendously. The Canadian silver medalists went out first at Skate America and put up very high scores. Back home, Duhamel and Radford felt they had to do more. At Skate Canada the following week – a competition Duhamel and Radford should have won – they fumbled and ended up third. “We learned half-way through the season that sometimes we were preoccupied with what they were doing and it led us to poor performances,” Duhamel said.

Radford was “heartbroken” for Moscovitch, always one of his closest friends. “He was ready for another four years [with Moore-Towers],” Radford said. “It just wasn’t in the cards.” But, Radford said, it will be very exciting to watch all the new teams that have formed in Canada.

This season, Duhamel and Radford have taken out the complex choreography that they felt they had to use to gain every point – intending their programs to have more flow and speed. And they feel they will perform better when they can skate with ease. “We don’t feel as if we are in a rush now,” Duhamel said.

With all of that in mind, choreographer Julie Marcotte found them music she said they must use for their short program: iconic Quebec songbird Ginette Reno singing “Un Peu Plus Haut,” a signature piece for her. It has the same feel as their “Tribute” routine from last season: deeply inspiring.

Duhamel and Radford are taking full advantage of the ability to use vocals this year and will use them for both programs. For now, they are keeping their long program under wraps, saying only that it is music from a rock band – and this will give them a different look.

And they are working on a mighty big trick, too, (also hush-hush) that they haven’t done before. They hope to unleash their new look at the new Autumn Classic in Barrie, Ontario in October. Stay tuned. It won’t be boring.

Beverley Smith