Perfection is a tough goal.
When Meagan Duhamel came off the ice after the pair free skate at the world championships, she said: “I don’t know if it’s enough.”
Well, it was. Duhamel and Radford won the first world pair championship for Canada since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier 14 years ago, with points to spare, despite a couple of bobbles. They sailed to first with a cushion of 7.41 points over Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China.
“We always dreamed big and some dreams are so big that you probably never imagine them actually happening,” Radford said. “And now it’s actually happening to us and it is hard to tell if this is a dream or reality.”
When they had finished last season, Duhamel said they felt they had already achieved “all of our biggest, wildest goals [two-time world bronze medalists]. That was it. It was over. We’d achieved everything we’d ever dreamed of. Now we are one up and it is actually unbelievable. We are very proud of ourselves, not just for this skate but for the entire [undefeated] season.”
Duhamel and Radford also kept three spots for Canadian pairs next year for worlds in Boston.
Duhamel put hands down on their throw quad Salchow, then Radford bobbled and lost unison during a combo spin. But the veterans (29 and 30 years old) brushed it all off to with 221.53 points.
In fact veterans reigned. Qing Pang and Jian Tong, both 35 years old, were the artists of the night, winning program component scores 73.61 points with a memorable skate to Lo Ci Saro. It was only their second international of the season and they are retiring again. It was Pang’s idea to return, said Tong. He just followed.
Pang admitted she was nervous for the free. “Though we tried to bring our performance to perfection there were still some regrets,” she said. “I thank all the audience for their passion. I’m very happy to be back on the rink and in our home country.”
And they will disappear, a brief shot of sunshine on a difficult road. “To be honest, I didn’t want it to happen so soon, but it is time to say goodbye,” Tong said. “We tried out best and I think it is the best way to say goodbye. We also tried our best to train ourselves for the competition, but because of our age, we couldn’t do it anymore. “
The Chinese transported their capacity crowd, with teams finishing second, third and fourth. Sui and Han, three-time world junior championships, finally found their step at this event to take the silver medal. And with a stunning quad twist that got some +3 GOEs, Sui and Han actually edged Duhamel and Radford in the technical mark. Sui and Han won the long program and took the silver medal by 1.35 points over Pang and Tong. Sui and Han earned 10.10 points on that level-three twist alone.
Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang finished fourth overall with a brilliant quad twist, which earned them 10.53 points. Peng feels they have made breakthrough. She did feel the pressure to compete in China. Zhang said they were pleased to break 200 points with a score of 206.63.
The fates of others? Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, 33 and 30 years old, finished fifth overall, but sixth in the free after Kavaguti touched a hand down on the quad throw, got only a level one on their death spiral, and then Kavaguti fell on a throw triple loop. Their triumph? Making it back to competition after Smirnov’s injury that cost them a trip to the Sochi Olympics last year.
“It seems like we were not really together today,” Kavaguti said. “I didn’t expect to compete at worlds this year, so I’m quite happy we came here and skated in the last group. There was a similar situation two years ago. I’m disappointed.” They are off to compete at the World Team Trophy in Japan.
“Apparently I was focused more on fighting for a medal than on delivering a clean performance,” Smirnov said. “It was tough, physically. I fought for each element today. Too bad we spoiled the impression of our free program today.” Will they be back? Smirnov doesn’t know.
Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim nailed their lofty quad twist for 9.67 points and finished seventh. “I don’t think there are any limits to our potential,” Scimeca said. They are going home to work on quality.
World junior silver medalists Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau, at their first world senior championships finished eighth overall and – isn’t this fun? – they were 10th in both the short and long programs. Still their consistent, shining performance bodes well for their future.
Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch appeared to be sailing along quite comfortably in their free skate, but the wheels came off during the final minute as their lack of time together became evident. Lubov fell out of an ambitious back outside death spiral, then they lost synch during a combo spin, and then their final lift collapsed. “I can’t say I saw that coming,” Moscovitch said. Another year together will put many things right. They were 13th.
“I think we were skating so well, we were probably a little too excited,” Moscovitch said later. “Maybe we lost our focus a little bit. Being a new team, we will learn over time how to bring each other back under stress.”
They plan to be back next year with “stronger elements, new elements, harder elements,” Moscovitch said.
And it can’t be said any longer that Duhamel and Radford are the only ones to do triple Lutzes in their routines. In the free, Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek landed marvellous ones (although some judges gave them -1 GOE while many others gave them +2.) They had other difficulties: a lift collapse, a crashy twist, but they, too, are in their first season together, with Marchei at age 28 being completely new to pair skating. They were 11th at their first worlds together. “It was beautiful that after seven world championships to be here with a partner,” Marchei said. “It’s totally different.”
While perfection is hard to come by in a high-risk pair event, it almost became the norm in the women’s short program. But many of us didn’t know when the event started that Canadian champion Gabby Daleman had dislocated a knee two weeks ago and is still recovering; Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia had such an early practice, that she brought a blanket and slept in the warmup room before her event started; Russian media say Elena Radionova had a temperature of 100 degrees F., not ideal; and Anna Pogorilaya injured ligaments in her left leg before the championships, although she says things have gone better in the past two weeks. She said she was also sick before the competition. “It was the hardest preparation ever for me before a competition,” she said.
The American women had no excuses at all and will have to up their game in the free to save their three spots for next year.
But the crowning achievement of all was Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s triple Axel, and what a pretty, easy one, garnering her 10.07 with some +2s in GOE. Tutktamysheva became the sixth woman to land a triple
Axel in competition, others being Midori Ito, Tonya Harding, Ludmila Nelidina, Yukari Nakano and Mao Asada.
Tutktamysheva said she thought she had only a 50 per cent chance of actually landing it, and won’t try it in the free, because she didn’t have time to make the changes in the program and then train them. But look out for the future!
“When I landed the triple Axel, I got goosebumps and I thought: ‘Is this a dream or did I really just do the triple Axel at the world championships?’” she said. “I had to pull myself together after this.” She added that this was the first time that she did a clean short with the triple Axel. (Good time to do it.) “It was a risk to do the triple Axel in the short program, but figure skating has to evolve,” she said. “The men are doing three quads in the program and the girls also have to develop.”
That triple Axel rocketed Tuktamysheva (10th last year at Russian nationals, missing the Sochi Olympics) into first place with 77.82 points, third highest in history for a short behind Asada and Yu Na Kim. Her performance was electric and brilliant, but as Jeff Buttle tweeted: “not an ounce of beauty. Just being honest.” Still, Tuktamysheva had the highest component marks of the lot: 33.53. Next highest in that category was Elena Radionova with 31.48.
Tuktamysheva’s technical mark alone was 44.09, towering over Radionova’s 38.03. Tuktamysheva actually landed four triples in the short program. Ground-breaking.
Radionova, competing at her first world senior championship, was second with 69.51 points, after gaining level fours for all elements and landing an adequate triple Lutz – triple toe loop. She trails Tuktamysheva by 8.11 points. She admitted to nerves but is happy with the score and said she has no immediate plans to include the triple Axel.
Tiny Satoko Miyahara is third with 67.02 points and is celebrating a birthday, the same day as Canadian silver medalist Alaine Chartrand, who turned 19 and sits in 10th with a close-to-best 60.24. Miyahara said she “skated with satisfaction,” got a personal best (67.02) and hopes to get another one in the free. She feels surprise at being third, but this will give her more confidence going into the free. She says she’s practiced the triple Axel in the past, “but I need to try harder,” quite a statement from a young teen who is a workaholic already.
Other very memorable performances:
There was a stunning turnaround and magical moment for Kanako Murakami after being fifth at Japanese nationals, to be fourth in the short for a best score of 65.48. She was delightful.
Rika Hongo barrels along with utter consistency, but in the short, she skated with an extra bit of joy and is fifth, with a perfectly executed program. It’s her first worlds.
Zijun Li of China is sixth, but still not happy with the landing of her first jump, (an underrotation on the second part of the triple flip-triple toe loop). The crowd went wild when Li came out. “I could feel the passion from the audience and I was very motivated,” she said. She’s not so worried about her placement as she is about the prospect of progress. She’s changed the order of elements in her free program, and she knows she still needs to pay attention to the second mark.
Polina Edmunds, whose goal it was to at least get on the podium, is in seventh place, best of all the American women and with 61.71 points, still 5.31 points away from third with some bearcats in front of her. At least, her program was clean (showed off a wow Biellmann spin with her long legs). Her goal, she said, is to skate another clean in the free.
Alaine Chartrand in 10th with 60.24, landing her triple Lutz – triple toe loop, but underrotating the last part, which cost her a point. “It feels good to skate that close to my personal best on my birthday,” she said. “I’m very happy to have a skate like that at my first senior [world] championships.” Her goal is to make top 12 overall, with a personal best.
Gracie Gold unravelling, stepping out of the first part of her triple Lutz – triple toe combo, then coming to a screeching stop by the boards on her triple loop. That puts her in eighth, but 16.89 behind Tuktamysheva.
Porogrilyaya fell very hard on a triple loop, grabbed her back after landing a double Axel, apparently in pain, and then stumbled during footwork. “I wasn’t very well prepared for this championship,” she admitted. Gold, Pogorilaya and Chartrand are all within a breath of each other.
Ashley Wagner got some disapproving glares from coach Rafael Arutunian after she fell at the second part of her triple Lutz – triple toe loop and turned out of a double Axel. She came back and landed a triple flip with determination, but it didn’t take much to plunge her to 11th place. “It’s tough to skate in last and I had a couple of things up against me,” she said. “But tomorrow is a new day…Today just wasn’t my day.”
Back to that triple Axel: Tuktamysheva said she was surprised when she landed a triple Axel early in January, and then busily began working on it. It wasn’t ready for the European championships, because she just wanted a clean program.
On what we’ll see in women’s skating in the future? “I don’t think the Russian girls will give away their position anytime soon,” Tuktamysheva said. “But there are a lot of girls at a very high level and I believe we’ll have a very interesting and risky life in the future.”
Perfection is a tough goal.