Ice Network

Canadians overcome frustrations to defend title

Sui, Han runners-up again; Savchenko, Massot thrilled with bronze
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The day belonged to Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who were pretty much perfect from the first to the last element in their "Hometown Glory" free skate. The Canadians finished first in the segment with a score of 153.81 -- the fourth highest total ever recorded under the international judging system -- to move up one spot from the short and win their second consecutive world title. -Getty Images

Recent past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, at least if you're Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

Canada's defending world champions arrived in Boston after a string of disappointments. They failed to defend their Grand Prix Final title in December. They won their fifth national crown but with subpar programs. They missed their side-by-side triple lutzes in the short program at the 2016 Four Continents Championships and then withdrew from the competition due to Duhamel's illness.

"We flew in under the radar," Radford said. "Many people had drawn the conclusion, based on the season we were having, we weren't quite the strong contenders we were last season, when we won everything."

The Canadians silenced doubters Saturday when they hit every element in their free skate to Adele's "Hometown Glory," including a throw quadruple salchow and side-by-side triple lutzes, to earn 153.81 points and win their second world title with a total score of 231.99. They defeated Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China, who led after Friday's short program, by seven and a half points.

During the team's final lift, the emotional Duhamel acknowledged the crowd and screamed with joy.

"It's been frustration after frustration after frustration for us this season," Duhamel said. "You work so hard, and that frustration hurts you so deeply. And it just feels so good when it all comes together. I was waiting for Eric to put up that last lift, because I was going to explode. After that, I knew it was over; I knew we had done enough, the audience was going crazy, and it just got me going."

Richard Gauthier, who trains the skaters in Montreal with Bruno Marcotte, thinks a key decision earlier this season led to the clean free skate in Boston.

"They were working on throw quad lutz, and it was hard because they have a throw triple lutz in the short," Gauthier said. "Training the quad damaged the triple. So by the Grand Prix Final, I said, 'You don't need that second throw quad. Let's do a nice throw triple lutz (in the free skate)...we have enough other stuff.'"

Watching Duhamel's joy in the pair's final lift was especially satisfying for Marcotte. He and Duhamel were married last June. 

"Everything changed after Canadians," Marcotte said. "It was a complete turnaround, even at home. Meagan was more relaxed and more positive. This was an even more rewarding skate than last year, as far as what they had come from, plus it was their best performance ever, way better than last year. I see the daily sacrifice Meagan puts into her career, so when you see all of that effort and commitment to excellence, you want it to be rewarded."

Sui and Han, who led by 2.68 points heading into the free skate, opened their program strong, with a solid quadruple twist and side-by-side triple toe-double toes. But a few big mistakes -- Sui fell on the throw quad salchow and doubled an intended triple salchow jump -- meant they had to settle for 224.47 points and a second consecutive world silver medal.

The young Chinese, 20 and 23, were clearly disappointed. They had hoped to bring home China's first world pairs gold since 2010, when Qing Pang and Jian Tong won their second world title.

"We were a little bit nervous, especially me," Sui said through an interpreter. "After getting first in the short program, I was thinking last night we might win the gold medal, so it impacted our mindset a little bit. Also, we were the first ones to skate in the final group and I don't think my preparation was enough, and that affected the performance."

"We leave the competition with many regrets," Han said. "I think we thought too much going into the free skate and that led to many mistakes. But we identified many opportunities, and we're bringing back some homework, and we will definitely work on things when we go back home to China."

This was not the only disappointment for China: Sui and Han's runner-up placement combined with the 12th-place finish of Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang means the pairs powerhouse will bring just two teams to the 2017 World Championships.

Not even Duhamel and Radford were happier than bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, who capped a two-year odyssey of citizenship issues, financial woes and negotiations with the German and French figure skating federations to deliver a solid free skate and climb from fourth after the short to claim the bronze medal.

The Germans opened with a spectacular triple twist, followed by a triple toe loop-triple toe loop sequence. Savchenko doubled an intended triple salchow and turned out of the landing of a throw triple flip, but their lifts soared and their final element, a throw triple salchow, was well landed. They finished with 216.17 points in just their second major international competition.

"It was really hard to skate after (the Canadians), but I was thinking we have nothing to lose, (because) we are here as a new team," said Savchenko, who won five world pairs titles with the now-retired Robin Szolkowy. "We just had to do what we could, the best we could, so I tried to concentrate on my elements."

This is the first world medal for Massot, who previously competed for France. In his only prior appearance at the world championships, he placed 15th in 2014 with former partner Daria Popova.

"To get a medal was not our objective," he said. "Our goal was to just do two good programs. We made some mistakes, but in the end, it was good."

It was the most disappointing world championships in memory for Russian pairs, who placed fourth, fifth and sixth, failing to medal for the second straight season.

Most shocking was the sixth-place finish of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who returned to competition this season after sitting out the 2014-15 campaign due to Trankov's shoulder surgery. The Olympic champions never looked comfortable in their free skate to Dracula soundtracks, with Trankov falling out of a triple salchow and failing to successfully complete their first lift, for which they gained no credit.

The free skate was also a disappointment for Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim. Coming off a stellar outing at Four Continents, where they won the silver medal behind Sui and Han, the U.S. silver medalists opened their free to the Elizabeth: The Golden Age soundtrack with their patented quad twist, but they lost ground when Scimeca fell on a triple toe loop and turned out of the landings of both throw triple jumps. They placed ninth overall with 190.06 points.

"It was rough. Technically, we had a lot of big errors, and there were also small errors, which didn't help the big errors," Knierim said. "We felt good in practice and in the warmup."

"I felt every time I would get on that outside edge, I would slip," Scimeca said. "On the in-between things, I kept feeling it get away from me. I really noticed it on my exit on my jumps and throws. There was no technical error on the things I messed up on; I just couldn't save it. I don't know if there was something on there, or if it was just in my head." 

U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea had a solid free skate to "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera, with Kayne's fall on a throw triple lutz their only major mistake. They placed 11th in the free skate and 13th overall with 178.23 points.

"This was a great experience, our first worlds, and you can't ask much more than to skate in front of a home crowd," O'Shea said. "We could have skated a bit better in both programs, but we're happy to keep working for next season."

O'Shea added that he and Kayne, along with coaches Jim Peterson and Amanda Evora, have specific goals for the 2016-17 campaign.  

"We want to bring our (triple) twist up to the level of top teams, and we're also going to continue to work on the throw quad salchow," he said. "We want to up the difficulty of our solo jumps and keep pushing the envelope as much as we can."