Ice Network

Canada looking for double gold at Grand Prix Final

Duhamel, Radford eye pairs title; Weaver, Poje among dance favorites
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In pairs team Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (left) and dance duo Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Canada has two prime gold-medal candidates in Barcelona. -Getty Images

Canada does not have three-time world champion Patrick Chan or Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the field at the upcoming Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, but that doesn't mean the nation is going to be out of the medal hunt.

Far from it.

In fact, of the three teams representing Canada, two are contenders for gold medals: ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and pair Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Canada is also sending ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who scored two silver medals during the Grand Prix season.

"We're hoping to continue Canada's great domination in ice dance," Weaver said.

Weaver and Poje won gold medals at both of their Grand Prix assignments (Skate Canada and NHK Trophy), and they also claimed the title at the Nebelhorn Trophy. Duhamel and Radford, who have added a throw quad Salchow to their arsenal this season, also won at Skate Canada and NHK.

Weaver and Poje, the heir apparents to Virtue and Moir, were a scant 0.02 points away from claiming a world title earlier this year. They have their sights set on several firsts: a Grand Prix Final title (they have never finished higher than fourth), a Canadian title (they have finished second four times) and a world title (their best showing is the aforementioned second-place finish last season).

"They're ready," said their coach, Pasquale Carmerlengo, who trains the duo along with Anjelika Krylova in Detroit. "They're ready to fight."

Weaver and Poje's biggest competition in Spain is expected to come from Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who are in a similar position of trying to fill big skates. For years, American ice dance has been dominated by Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won the Olympic gold medal in Sochi in their 17th season together.

Like Weaver and Poje, Chock and Bates also won two Grand Prix titles this season, at Skate American and Cup of Russia. The only time they competed against each other this season was at Nebelhorn, where Weaver and Poje won the short dance, and Chock and Bates were first in the free dance. Chock and Bates, who have impressed judges with their lifts, have posted the highest overall score of any ice dance team this season, earning a personal-best 174.28 at the Rostelecom Cup. Weaver and Poje's season's best was 171.10 at Skate Canada.

"We definitely left some points on table at Skate Canada and NHK," Weaver said, adding, "We are working on bigger and better programs at the Final."

Gilles and Poirier just missed a spot on the Canadian Olympic team in Sochi, as he struggled with a right leg injury.

"I don't know if it will ever be back to normal," said Poirier, who noted that his health has improved. 

Still, he is able to compete, and their strong performances this season have given the duo confidence to compete with the top teams.

Meanwhile, in pairs, Duhamel and Radford said they feel rejuvenated this season, especially with the addition of the throw quad in their free skate. The pair, which placed seventh in Sochi but captured its second world bronze medal last season, had wanted to add a throw quad in their programs for several years, but their coaches thought it was too risky.

They got the green light to try it this season, and they have landed it successfully in practices. The closest they have come to landing it cleanly in competition was at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic, where Duhamel put her hand down on the landing.

"It's not just for us," Duhamel explained. "We're looking to push the sport of figure skating. We've been seeing the throw triple Salchow for 30 or 40 years now, so I think it's time that people try to push it and try harder things."

Both Duhamel and Radford and Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov -- who will join the Canadians in Barcelona -- attempted throw quads at NHK, but both suffered falls.

"We can only learn how to do [the throw quad Salchow] in competition by doing it in competition, and also by making mistakes in competition," Radford said. "Results-wise, it could be the difference between first and second at worlds."

Duhamel said one thing they are trying to learn about the maneuver is not to let the adrenaline of competition get the best of them. Sometimes, they get too excited and the throw is too big. When asked what they could do to improve the element, Duhamel said, "Make it a little bit smaller."

They hope it is smaller, yet a big hit, in Barcelona.