Ice Network

At long last: Duhamel, Radford win first Grand Prix

Coaching change spurs Sui, Han to silver; Aaron, Settlage place fourth
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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford finally won their first Grand Prix event, running away with the gold at Skate Canada. -Stephan Potopnyk/Skate Canada

After two world bronze medals, a Four Continents title and three Canadian crowns, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have won a Grand Prix.

Fittingly, their first gold came at Skate Canada, where they outdistanced the competition by 26 points.

"For years, it has been our goal to win a Grand Prix title, so we feel great that we finally achieved this today," Duhamel said. "It was one of big our goals for the season."

The athletic duo, who train under Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte in Montreal, justified their status as the event's overwhelming favorites with their 210.74-point score, just 0.1 shy of their personal best (set at the 2014 World Championships). Performing to a medley from the British rock group Muse, they opened with a solid triple twist, followed by clean side-by-side triple Lutzes.

The third element was the one that all 4,000 fans at Prospera Place came to see: the throw quad Salchow. At the team's last competition, the Skate Canada Autumn Classic in Barrie, Ontario, last month, Duhamel touched down with her hand on the landing. This time, she again came close to a clean landing, just stepping out.

The team regrouped with outstanding side-by-side spins, and although their triple toe-double toe combinations were a bit out of sync, their three lifts were excellent. They earned 138.04 points, a new personal best for the free skate, and their program components ranged as high as 9.25.

"We caught a lot of heck about our quad throw, so it was a stepping stone today," Radford said. "We had great success, but there is still room for improvement in our program, because some elements were not perfect. We don't want to peak in October or early November."

"Our big goal is to win a world title," Duhamel said.

The skaters both remarked on how comfortable and relaxed they felt in Kelowna all week.

"Usually we are pretty serious before our competitions, but today we smiled," Radford said. "We enjoyed the energy from the audience."

Three-time Chinese world junior champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han were second in both the short program and free skate, and won silver with 184.64 points. They opened their program to Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini" with a clean quad twist worth nine points. Sui singled the first jump of a planned triple toe-double toe-double toe combination, and did not complete the combination. Their three lifts and two triple throws were excellent, but neither skater cleanly landed their triple Salchows.

"Last year we had some injury problems, and we are still recovering and hope to do better at our next competition," Han said.

The team has gone in a new direction this season: They changed coaches, from Bo Luan to 2010 Olympic champion Hongbo Zhao, and turned to David Wilson for choreography after working with Marina Zoueva last year.

"David has been a big help to us, because we want to skate more as grown-ups and no longer in a childish style," Han continued.           

Young Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who placed second at Nebelhorn Trophy in September, won the bronze medal with 175.45 points. Their opening triple twist was outstanding, gaining all +2 and +3 Grades of Execution (GOEs), but Tarasova doubled a planned triple toe loop and stepped out of the throw triple loop.

"I was not able to land all the elements, but we learned a lot from this competition for the future, about how to skate in front of a big crowd," Tarasova said.

Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage, who train in Dalilah Sappenfield's group in Colorado Springs, had a solid free skate to land in fourth with 165.91 points, a new personal best. They finished one spot higher in Kelowna than they did at Skate America last week.

Their triple twist and two triple throws (loop and Salchow) were cleanly executed, and their lifts were solid, but both of the double Axels done in sequence were judged under-rotated, and Settlage fell on a triple Salchow.

"I think today we did a really good job performing the program and getting the crowd excited," Aaron said. "We had a couple of errors, things we can definitely fix before nationals. It's great to have an improvement in score since Skate America, since we had a quick turnaround."

The French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, who have trained in Moscow under Stanislav Morozov since this summer, placed fifth after mistakes on their jumps.

New Canadian pair Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro were sixth after having their side-by-side triple Salchows downgraded to doubles.