Fresh off of an imperfect yet golden pairs performance at the NHK Trophy Grand Prix in Sapporo, Japan, Canadian skating duo Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are still working out the kinks in their routine.
With an unfortunate fall in the short program, and trouble with a lift in the long program, the two-time world champions have flawless potential, but need everything to come together during their next big event — the Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, which CBCSports.ca will begin its live stream coverage of on Thursday at 1:45 p.m. ET.
Known for their boundary pushing and technically difficult routines, which despite errors has kept them on the podium this season, they will need to make this competition count as the duo inches towards the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games.
But like the proverbial wine that gets better with age, Duhamel, who will turn 31 on Thursday, and Radford, who turns 32 in January, continue to grow together.
In a recent conference call with reporters, Duhamel and Radford, now in their seventh season together, talked about changes to their routine, the season highlights and lowlights, along with how they've managed the intense competition schedule as they prepare to go up against some of the world's best in France.
How are you feeling heading into the finals in France?
Meagan Duhamel: The Grand Prix series started off pretty good for us at Skate Canada, being able to hit not only a season best, but a personal best in the short. That's an amazing way to start the season with the highest short program score we've ever had and there's still room for it to be much higher than that. That's what is really motivating us with the short program right now.
We had a pretty good long at Skate Canada, apart from the fall on the quad, everything else was done decently well. We struggled with the long quite a bit at NHK last week with an uncharacteristic mistake there at the end, with the lift. Completely shocking to us, it doesn't happen very often and it'll never happen again. That was just an unfortunate way to end the long program at NHK. We've adjusted some things with our programs like we always do, and the Grand Prix Finals has been a great competition for us the last few years, so I think we feel pretty positive as we head into France.
Can you take us through any major changes in your programs?
MD: We wanted to address the footwork in the short program and it is a pretty major change. To re-do over half the footwork sequence, but I think it's going to be for the better and it's going to make the whole program stronger because we're going to end on a stronger note with the footwork. That's the major thing we focused on, changing that yesterday and doing it in the short program today when we were training.
How can you change your footwork so quickly?
Eric Radford: It's actually kind of funny because at the very beginning of the footwork, we just jumped and since we started doing the program, we do a twizzle right after. We changed it and the first time we went to do it, Meagan did the twizzle and I did the new step. The second time we went to do it, I did the old step and Meagan did the new step. It really is ingrained in you, and those types of changes, especially in the footwork because it's such a long element with a lot of different steps, it really takes many, many times before it to become completely natural. [With the Grand Prix Finals] it'll be something we have to be really aware of to ensure we don't make any silly mistakes in it.
CBC: Can you explain what happened with the lift at NHK?
ER: We just changed the timing of the set up. We changed the arm movement again, which changes the timing and you can see that as we went in, we had our old hand grip and I don't know why, I was pretty tired and we went at different times. So Meagan went to do the dance lift before I was ready, so I got caught off a little bit of balance and by the time it came to go up, our timing was just different. On a lift like that, especially at the end, if you go at different times, you lose the momentum, or I lose the momentum and I don't get to use the momentum to lift Meagan up.
It ended up just being strength between the two of us and as it was going up I had five different thoughts of, 'okay, it's going to make it….nope, I'm not going to make it...yep, I'm gonna make it...nope, I'm not gonna make it.' Eventually we got it up and squeezed out two and a half points for that lift. Again, we made that change the week before we left for Japan and just in that moment, it threw us off enough that it affected the element. Of course, now that we're aware of that, it shouldn't happen again.
How do you acclimatize with so many trips in a short period of time?
MD: You don't really, we've had the same schedule for three years now, we've chosen this schedule of events because for the last two years it worked in our favour by showing up at the Grand Prix Final and having a pretty good competition the last two years in a row. We're hoping it's going to work for a third time.
It is really hard because we travelled to Japan and we just get adjusted to the time zone there and then we come home and we're just getting adjusted and then we're going to go off to Europe. Regardless of that, I think being tired and maybe not sleeping very well these last few days, our training had been really good. That's all we can ask for, it's such a short turnaround, we arrived home Monday night, we took Tuesday off to recover, and then we skate Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then we leave on Monday. We don't have ice on the weekends, we don't train on weekends. So it's three tough training days, doing all the work that needs to get done, as you're trying to adjust and recover.
What do you think of when looking toward Pyeongchang?
ER: At this moment right now, the finish line is in sight. Now we're in the middle of the most gruelling part of the season, where we have these really close together competitions, a lot of travel and all that type of stuff. When I imagine looking toward the Olympics, it's such a far off thought at this moment, but of course it does come to mind every once in awhile. I just imagine what it's going to be like when we're finally there and it's a long buildup to [the] really important moment in an athlete's career, but at this very moment, haven't really thought about it too much.
One competition at a time?