Canadian pairs hope home soil proves fertile
Duhamel and Radford, Moore-Towers and Moscovitch pushing each other to ever-greater heights
|Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have established themselves as serious medal contenders at next week's world championships. (Getty Images)|
It's been five years since Canada has produced a team that has stood on the world podium: Jessica Dubé and then partner Bryce Davison, who took the bronze at the 2008 event in Gothenburg, Sweden.
While the landscape has changed quite a bit since, perhaps the most important change is that the land the Canadian teams will skate on this year is their home soil.
Meagan Duhamel and her partner, Eric Radford, are the reigning Canadian champions, followed closely by Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. In fact, Duhamel and Radford needed a Canadian record at nationals to win the title.
"We are constantly pushing each other," Moscovitch said. "And you can definitely see it in the level of skating coming out of Canadian pairs."
Both teams qualified among the top six in the world to compete in the Grand Prix Final, which was held at the venue that will be used less than a year from now at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Duhamel and Radford placed fourth in Sochi, with Moore-Towers and Moscovitch in fifth.
The two teams finished 1-2 at the Four Continents Championships, with Duhamel and Radford taking the title. It was a tight battle, as Moore-Towers and Moscovitch won the free skate with a performance that included two side-by-side triple toe loops. Both teams recorded personal-best scores in Osaka, with Duhamel and Radford's total score (199.18) ranking fourth among all teams this season, and Moore-Towers and Moscovitch's total (196.78) placing them fifth on the season's best list.
"When I step back and I look at where we are and people are seeing us as medal contenders ... three years ago I couldn't have imagined going into the world championships as medal contenders or that people would say that [Meagan and I could win a world medal]," Radford said. "I think it's amazing. We've made ourselves into world contenders.
"And," he added, "We want to go all the way to the top."
The last time a Canadian team won the world crown was back in 2001, when Jamie Salé and David Pelletier reigned in Vancouver.
Now, Canada is regaining its footing in the discipline.
Duhamel explained the country's recent run of success by saying the two teams have benefited from "good, old-fashioned hard work" and "never giving up." Those words are easy to say but often too hard to follow, as teams routinely split after one or two bad competitions.
Perhaps what is so interesting about the Canadians' rise of late is that neither team has been a steady power. Duhamel and Radford teamed up in 2010 and have competed at two world championships, finishing seventh in 2011 and fifth in 2012. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch, meanwhile, have competed at worlds just once, in 2011, when they placed eighth. Last season, they placed fourth at the Canadian championships, leaving them on the outside looking in.
Moscovitch admitted it was difficult watching the 2012 World Championships from his home.
"Of course it was hard, because at the beginning of last season, we had the goal of aiming toward the podium at worlds," Moscovitch said.
The disappointment, Moscovitch added, "just fueled the fire" for the duo to come back strong this season.
Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy have won four of the last five world championships, including the last two, but a sinus infection slowed Savchenko and forced the team to miss this season's Trophée Eric Bompard and, subsequently, the Grand Prix Final. They finished second at the European championships.
The favorites in London are Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia, the two-time world silver medalists, reigning European champions and Grand Prix Final gold medalists.
That the world championships will be held in London is significant for both Canadian teams, as all four skaters hail from Ontario. Duhamel and Radford train in Montreal with Richard Gauthier, who helped guide Salé and Pelletier's career. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch train a little more than an hour's drive from London, in Waterloo, Ontario, with coaches Kris Wirtz and Kristy Sargeant-Wirtz, who represented Canada at two Olympic Games together.
They also know that having two strong teams with home-country backing can only help them, and the future of their sport, in Canada. Although Canada has produced two of the best pairs teams in the world, the discipline needs to grow in popularity: Only six teams competed at the senior level at the 2013 Canadian Championships.
Duhamel said, "Having two teams right at the top is going to create more interest for younger skaters in novice and junior. And maybe for some singles skaters thinking of making the switch, this could spark a lot of interest and, hopefully, in the next few years, we will see a lot more pairs skaters in Canada."