Okay. It’s the elephant in the room.
The comeback of Olympic bronze medalist and world pair champion Eric Radford could sit heavily on two-time Canadian pair champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro. And yes it has.
They would like to go into the Beijing Olympics in February as the national champions, but now there is this Eric Radford partnership with top (former French) pair skater Vanessa James that has bubbled up unexpectedly for this season. “That changes the whole game, right?” Moore-Towers said after the short program at Skate Canada on Friday. James had won a European bronze medal with her previous partner, skating for France.
“In the summer, the beginning of the year, we gave them a little bit too much thought, and too much of our attention,” Marinaro said.
“He’s saying ‘we’ but he means me,” Moore-Towers interjected.
“I would like to say we don’t think about it at all,” she said. “But we do. We are defending national champions and we want to go into the Games as national champions. “
But, she said, they are accustomed to other teams around them getting “a lot of press and a lot of buzz.”
They saw it with the new partnership of Lubov Ilyushechkina and Charlie Bilodeau, with Dylan Moscovitch before that. And they’re seeing it now again with James and Radford.
Now they know that success depends on being able to stay in their own bubble and not pay any attention to exterior factors. “If course they are fantastic teams and they are fantastic skaters with their former partners and as individuals, too,” Moore-Towers said. “We obviously respect them for that, but we believe we can be better, for sure.”
At this point, at the end of October, Marinario said they have come to terms with where they are in the spectrum of skating. And now they are just focusing “just solidly on ourselves to give us the opportunities we have to be at the time. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t.
We definitely want to beat them.”
James and Radford want to go to the Olympics as Canada’s top team, too. “Skate Canada is just a step towards where we want to go, hopefully the Olympics,” James said. “We have some strong Canadian competitors. We’re hoping that we will be No. 1 heading to the Olympics, but we don’t take that as a given. We have to work.”
It hasn’t been as easy as anybody dreamed to forge a partnership with all of the glue they need so quickly. There isn’t much time left. Radford admits that with every new relationship, there is a honeymoon period.
“I think in the beginning, as we were developing, things came together so quickly, that there was almost a false sense of: This is going to be easy, and we have so much experience and we’re not going to have any pressure on our shoulders because we have already accomplished everything that we have and we have nothing to prove to anybody.
“But that’s not how it has been,” he said. “I think that people may have expected, and maybe we expected a little bit of ourselves to be able to come out at our first competition and skate relatively clean programs, because these elements are super simple for us, we’re connecting easily and we were progressing so fast.
“But it hasn’t been like that. It has been more challenging. I think we’re realizing that we’re a new team and we are not going to bypass any steps off the bat.”
It has taken them a couple of competitions to discover where they need to be mentally to have their best skate, to find out what the other needs when they’re in a competition.
There has been improvement since their first two events. “That’s our biggest takeaway,” he said. “We know that we can improve each time we go out and that’s the most important thing.”
That being said, in the short program Friday at Skate Canada, Moore-Towers and Marinaro finished fourth, with 66.43 points, only 1.41 points ahead of James and Radford in fifth. Both made mistakes. Moore-Towers getting a lower level on their twist and getting negative GOE, having issues on their triple toe loops (she stepped out, Marinaro landed awkwardly).
James and Radford underrotated a triple Salchow, and James landed a throw triple flip on two feet. Their camels were a little off, their sit spin far apart.
Mind you, at Finlandia Trophy, James’ toe pick kicked Radford in the knee on the landing of their triple toe loops, the second element of their long program. James looked over, saw Radford bleeding. He held up throughout the event, although a final lift got only a level one.
The wound was closed with medical glue. But the little issue turned into a more significant one than they expected.
“After the competition, they glued the wound shut, but it ended up splitting open,” Radford said. “It didn’t heal the way that I was hoping it would. I think it kind of affected my knee bends. In skating, the knee bends all the time.
“So the first week of training, I couldn’t even do crosscuts, just a half session each day to get our feet on the ice. There is a lot of pain when I first get on the ice, but I tend to warm up after a little while. We didn’t get to train the past two weeks at our full capacity. That is not an excuse for the performance that we just did. We had been skating very well.”
Radford said they were the most prepared for this event than they had ever been, despite the challenges with the knee. “We felt ready,” he said. “It didn’t happen the way we wanted it to.”
James said their practices have been going very well, but they are working on maintaining levels under the stress of competition. “Everything is coming together at home,” she said. “But we still need time in competition.
But, Radford said, there are just too many small mistakes happening. They need to figure out why. It could be ‘first season newness,” he said. “But we are better than that.
Beyond all this domestic drama, Chinese pair stars Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, seldom seen, showed up to win the short program, with 78.94 points, well ahead of Russians Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin.
Skating to a flamenco piece, Nyah, Sui and Han showed why they are two-time world champions and the reigning Olympic silver medalists. Their throw triple flips soared (2.57 bonus marks for that), and they managed a level four for their twist, not easy to do. The young Russians also got a level four on their triple twist.
“We know that we have some level problems from the last competition, but there was little time before this competition,” Han said. “So this is maybe our next goal.” They still lost levels on their steps and death spiral in the short program at this event.
Pavliuchenko and Khodykin are young talents, and have already won a bronze medal at the European championships in 2020. They both contracted COVID during 2020-2021. And late in the season Pavliuchenko contracted mononucleosis.
At the start of the season, they had a lot of problems with their health: He had back problems, he said, and she had problems with her immune system. They skated to an Italian piece, and ripped off a huge level four triple twist. They lost a point for a fall: she ripped her leotards as she fell during a flip over his back in only a transition move, and their routine ran overtime. They did not finish with the music. But it was a strong, delightful program.
German team Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nolan Seegert skated out of their skins, finishing third with 67.93 points. The 2019 Rostelcom Cup bronze medalists had a long trip to Vancouver. They missed their flight connection and didn’t arrive until the day before competitions. They had never competed at the Grand Prix in Canada before.