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Duhamel, Radford sneak off with narrow pairs lead

Italians take second despite blade misfortunes; Chinese pull into third
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Two-time reigning Canadian pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who also won at Four Continents last season, squeaked out a short program win by just 0.19 points over Italians Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek. -Getty Images

The day after Eric Radford's coach, Paul Wirtz, died of cancer in 2006, Radford sat down and began to play the piano.

As a result, he created a piece of music, which he later titled "Tribute," in Wirtz's honor. Over the years, Radford thought about skating to it, but it never panned out. He thought about using it when he was a singles skater back in 2009.

Now a pairs skater with partner Meagan Duhamel, however, the time seemed right. The couple, which earned the world bronze medal back in March, decided to use Radford's music for this season and hopes it will be an appropriate tribute at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. They performed it Friday in front of a Canadian audience en route to winning the short program at 2013 Skate Canada at Harbour Station in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Duhamel and Radford did not skate their best, as Duhamel botched the landing on their side-by-side triple Lutzes and then put her hands down on the throw triple Lutz, but they hold a slight lead on the international field with 69.57 points. Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy are second with 69.38 points, just 0.19 points behind the Canadians. China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are third with 69.02 points (0.55 out of first place).

Even with the mistakes, Duhamel and Radford seemed pleased with their performance, especially since the music is such an emotional piece.

"It is a different experience to hear my own music," Radford said. "It's a deep-centered feeling."

Right before they skated, the couple spoke to each other and reminded each other to stay focused on each element and "get back in the program." Right after the initial stumble on the triple Lutz, for example, they were pleased with the lift that followed.

Radford said the emotion of the music hit him toward the end, during their death spiral.

"[Wirtz] was the biggest influence in my life," Radford said.

The Italians produced their personal-best score despite Hotarek having quite an adventure with his skates earlier this week. Berton and Hotarek train in Detroit and flew through Toronto on their way to Saint John on Wednesday, but somehow his skates ended up in Chicago. While they attempted to track down the whereabouts of his skates, he tried practicing in a pair loaned to him by U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner -- ones Miner uses for practice -- since they had the same size and similar blades.

"On Ross' skates, I did not want to lift anybody," Hotarek said.

Fortunately, the skates arrived Thursday night, and he didn't have to use Miner's skates in competition after all. In fact, the couple had a backup plan to possibly try a pair of Patrick Chan's skates if their own did not arrive.

The Chinese team had their personal-best short program score as well. They are back this year after missing much of last season, as Sui was recovering from epiphysitis. Among the coaches they train with is Hongbo Zhao, who won the Olympic gold medal with Xue Shen.

The American team of Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, the 2013 world junior champions, made their senior-level Grand Prix debut, placing fifth. Frazier admitted he was a little nervous, and during the warm-up he hit his toe pick while performing a throw and slipped. 

"That's never happened to me in practice," Frazier said. "At least it happened in warm-up and not in the program."

Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker, who teamed up in February and were skating in their first senior Grand Prix together, placed seventh. The couple lost precious points on their lift.

"We still have the long program," Brubaker said. "We just have to skate like we have nothing to lose."

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