All eyes were on Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford at the final practice Thursday before the short program at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
We were all looking for the signs of the hip injury that Eric had disclosed the day before. The first thing that struck me was a change from side-by-side triple Lutz to the less valuable side-by-side triple toe jumps. They looked tentative and a little unsure.
- Hobbled Radford and partner Duhamel gut it out at worlds
- World pairs champion Radford battling injury
In her Player's Own Voice blog for CBC Sports, Meagan talked about their loss of confidence after a season of sub-par performances in competition. What factor would this injury play into that mental state? I got the chance to catch up with Meagan in the stands during the ice dance event. One might think that the intensity of the training about which she spoke might have done something to exacerbate the injury, but Meagan said that wasn't the case.
"We were 100 per cent healthy coming into this competition," she said. "It was only after we arrived that Eric felt a spasm in the muscles of his right hip. We had a plan coming into worlds and this had nothing to do with any lack of confidence that I felt over the season. I will say that this threw us off, mentally, a lot."
Focused on the podium
The seventh-place finish in the short program was a huge disappointment as the free program loomed in front of them. I wondered if there was a goal beyond capturing a third world title?
"Our goal was always to come to worlds to have a season's-best performance and to end up on the podium. We knew that we had to make adjustments based on the fact that Eric was experiencing pain doing the Lutz jumps and spins.
"We couldn't change the sit spin and pair spin, but we could make an adjustment with the side-by-side triple toes."
Eric mentioned to Brenda Irving after the free that they had considered withdrawing earlier in the day before their skate, which Meghan elaborated on.
"We had a big meeting with our coaches and Mike [Slipchuk, High Performance Director of Skate Canada] because Eric was stressed that if he got into the spins he might not be able to get out and then what would happen?
"We were reassured by the medical team who never told us or the coaches that we had to withdraw and that by skating, there wouldn't be anything that we would be doing that would harm or cause permanent damage to Eric's hip. That made the decision to skate the long more clear."
Their decision to skate in the long – combined with Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch's result – has resulted in the maximum three spots for Canadian pairs at next year's Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
Pushing through a performance that is not going to yield you what you want is tough. Doing it when you know it will be painful has to be worse.
"It's a funny thing, but stressing about it was in some ways worse. It was really just very bad timing. If it had happened last week, Eric would have taken a couple of days off and it would have been fine. We were hoping that we would be fine and that it would go away after a good night's sleep.
"Secretly, though, we didn't quite believe that was going to happen."
'We came here with a job to do'
When Meagan said in her blog 'no regrets' at Worlds, I wondered if this would still be the case after all.
"How could I have regrets? You do the best you can. You go to bed knowing that you did all that you could and this trip to worlds is no different."
There had to be some source of pride for Meagan and Eric in Helsinki and I asked her what had made her most proud from this unique and challenging experience.
"I have to say that we came here with a job to do and when we had to change our game plan we stayed with what we originally set out to do. Funny enough, we made fewer mistakes in this free program than what we have before in this season so we did accomplish our goal of our own season's-best performance."
What now? What does recovery and beyond look like for this dynamic team?
"Eric and I have already discussed the World Team trophy so when we get back he will continue with physio and massage appointments and as long as he can get the all clear by this Thursday and can do the Lutz jump, we're going. The hips have always been an area of vulnerability for Eric and it takes a lot of work at weekly physio appointments to maintain the strength and stability."
"We have already had so many meetings about our plans moving forward," she said. "It's almost as if we needed this kind of rock bottom to be able to help us imagine what would come next and the changes that we are going to make."