The tough part: Canada has only two Olympic pair skating spots.
The even more tough part: Canada had three teams that wanted those two spots.
This decision was the most difficult to make for Skate Canada about the 13 skaters that would make up the Olympic team, and also the most controversial. Dance, singles: easy. Pairs not so much
Skate Canada made what has turned into a controversial decision. They chose first-year team Vanessa James and Eric Radford, who skated the short program at the Canadian championships last weekend, and then pulled out of the free, after having developed COVID around Christmas. They had only four days to train, and finished fourth in the short program.
While it was a no brainer to take Kirsten Moore-Towers and Mike Marinaro, who won the gold medal, it was a tougher decision to leave home Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud, who skated two spine-tingling programs after a challenging year, to take the silver medal.
Canada is for the most part in a re-development stage after many of its stalwarts retired after the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018. Radford had retired after winning world and Olympic medals with partner Meagan Duhamel. James was footloose after her previous partnership fizzled.
Skate Canada made the decision based on James and Radford’s body of work over the season. During the Grand Prix season and other events, James and Radford had the highest short and long program scores and the highest international placements.
Skate Canada isn’t alone in setting up criteria to examine a skater’s body of work during the year to determine an Olympic spot. Former U.S. champion Alysa Liu tested positive for COVID a day after finishing third in the women’s short program this week, withdrew from the long, and then was placed on the U.S. women’s Olympic team.
James and Radford’s withdrawal early Saturday created a lot of buzz around the TD Place arena, after they had been earlier cleared to compete with negative tests. “We’re saddened we couldn’t compete at this competition because of the circumstances getting COVID and having 12 days off, especially being a new team,” James said. “But we came in. We wanted to show up and try our best, show sportsmanship and give it our all. It just didn’t happen for us for the short program. It solidified the fact that we are not prepared to do a great program that we need to show to go to the Olympics.”
Radford said Skate Canada’s criteria was stated at the beginning of the season. “So from the beginning until now, we all had the same opportunities to perform and score,” he said. “We came here, we did our best to compete as well as we could, after a few days of training.”
They drew on their experiences to make a decision to withdraw from the long program. Radford faced a similar conundrum at the 2017 world championships in Helsinki, when he suffered an injury, and he had to decide whether to forge ahead or withdraw. The 2017 world championship was a qualifying event for the 2018 Olympics. Canada needed Duhamel and Radford to earn three spots for Pyeongchang. Radford decided to compete.
They drew on their experience again, Radford said, in this most recent decision. “We felt we made the best decision for us so that we can be at our best in a month when it’s most important,” he said.
James and Radford did watch the event from the empty stands, and saw the brilliance of the gold and silver medalists. “They are also our teammates,” James said. “We are very proud of them, of how they competed, how they showed up, the beautiful performances they did. We were clapping for them in the stands.
Ironically, Radford worked with Walsh and Michaud for a couple of years before he decided to make a comeback with James. He considers the young team as friends. “I will always be wishing the best for them,” Radford said. “I think it’s plain to see that they have a bright future.”
But now they are competitors, too. He also used to compete against his best friend, Dylan Moscovitch. On the ice, they were competitors. Off the ice, they were friends.
James said they’ve had an up-and-down season, as have other Canadian pairs, but they’ve always progressed and shown improvement.
“We all came from the same starting position,” Radford said. “It was all fair game. We are competitors. We want to be our best and we want to be at the Olympics and we have worked very hard to get there. We’ve very proud to be there.”
He added that because he and James have already had COVID, they can be a little more at ease than others who haven’t caught it yet. “I can tell you from talking to other athletes, I know I’m more relaxed than they are at this point,” Radford said. “I think we have a small sense of relief that we have that over with. And now we have a little more of a clean, less stressful path as we train for Beijing.”
They will, however, still remain vigilant about catching COVID. It is possible to catch it more than once.
It wasn’t difficult for Skate Canada to choose Keegan Messing and Roman Sadovsky to be part of the men’s Olympic team. Sadovsky earned the second spot last fall at an event in Obertsdorf. “It would have been hard to watch somebody else take it,” he said.
As for Messing, his emotions rode so high after winning his first senior title, that he couldn’t sleep. “I hardly got any sleep last night,” he said. “Trying to shut down the brain was just impossible.”
He was still awake at 2:30 a.m., and “the excitement is still rolling over me today,” he said.
His one regret was that his mother had to miss his 19th nationals for the first time. He managed at least to allow her to see him get his gold medal. He Face-timed her on his cell phone, and got Elladje Balde to capture everything for his mother.
“That was probably the most I cried over this whole thing, watching my mom and dad there with me,” Messing said. “Having my parents there with me was just a flood of emotions. It was beautiful.”
He’s hoping his skates make it back home to Alaska without a hitch, so that he can start training right away. “I feel like I’ve got my fair share of bumps and bruises to carry me over a couple of trips,” he said. “I’m hoping that I’ll get a break on the next couple of ones.”