OTTAWA â€” When it comes pure athleticism, Canada’s two-time world pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are virtually in a class by themselves.
But the two have been forced to scale back their technical difficulty because of a judging system that seems unable to keep pace.
The two-time reigning world champions vow to keep pushing the envelope, but are sad to say change may not happen before they close the book on their illustrious careers.
“You always want to move the sport forward,” Duhamel said. “It’s frustrating and I don’t see things are going to change in our career, but we’re going to keep trying and keep fighting so that they can be changed for future generations, so that pairs do feel like it’s worth it to push themselves out of the box and to try different things and to be creative.”
Duhamel and Radford, who are expected to retire after next year’s Pyeongchang Olympics, captured a Canadian-record sixth national senior title this week, but it came without the throw triple Axel that took literally hundreds of hours, they said, to perfect this past off-season. Because the base value of the throw doesn’t reflect its difficulty, they’ve decided it’s not worth the risk.
“We had to start at the very basics of how: do we even holds hands on a throw Axel?” Duhamel said. “We didn’t know, like, how do we hold each other?”
The throw triple Axel is just as sounds: Radford throws Duhamel into a triple Axel, which is three-and-a-half rotations in the air.
They executed the tough element at Skate Canada. But at the Grand Prix Final, Duhamel fell on it, earning them just a single point for the element. They went on to finish a disappointing third. The Canadians also do a throw quad Salchow, which no other team in the world has landed this season.
“It’s frustrating, the fact that we know how hard these things are and not being rewarded for how difficult they are,” said Duhamel, a 31-year-old from Lively, Ont.
Duhamel pointed out, their easier throw triple Lutz earned them 6.9 points in Ottawa, whereas the Axel at Skate Canada earned them just 7.2.
“I can tell you that landing that throw triple Axel was more than .3 harder than the landing that throw triple Lutz that we did,” she said. “It can’t be that way. It’s impossible.”
The two have spoken to numerous technical specialists within the international skating community, and have been told that no changes can be made until after the Pyeongchang Olympics.
“But, why not?” said Radford, a 31-year-old from Balmertown, Ont. “How does it change other than make the sport more accurate in itself?”
There is some concern, Duhamel has been told, that the big throws are too dangerous.
“The very first person who tried a triple jump, when Petra Burka was trying her triple (Salchow), don’t you think people were saying: Oh that’s dangerous, a girl shouldn’t do a triple Sal,” Duhamel said. “Of course everything has its risk of danger. But we’ve doing a quad now for three years, we were doing a quad Lutz, we were doing a throw triple Axel. I’m fine. So how can you use that excuse, that it’s a risk factor? Anything’s a risk factor. I can fall on a single Axel.”
Radford believes that the dragging of heels on this issue goes against the spirit of sport.
“What is the essence of sport? If you can run faster that someone else in the 100-metre dash, you win because you ran faster than them,” Radford said. “And that is the essence of figure skating that keeps it in the sport category rather than an art.
“I believe there are specific people in the skating world and the (International Skating Union) who are afraid of a runaway effect â€” of a skater coming along that can do so much technically that they’re going to beat the most artistic. But if you eliminate that aspect of it and you say ‘Oh no, the artistry has to be the most important,’ I would be the first person to say that you should take figure skating out of the Olympics. Because it’s not a real sport if you take that away.”
Among their sizable arsenal of tricky elements, from the huge throws to the soaring overhead lifts, Duhamel’s favourite: their side-by-side spins.
“It’s something special that we do really well. It might appear to be a small element but for two people like Eric and I that have completely different bodies (she’s just four foot 10 and he’s 6-2) to move ourselves from position to position in perfect unison is actually really difficult,” she said. “My legs are going to move at a completely different pace than his.
“And I love to do throws and I love lifts. We love death spirals too. Everything has some excitement about it.”
Duhamel and Radford are aiming for their third straight world title in Helsinki in March. Canada’s Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul won four in a row from 1957 to 1960.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press