Duhamel, Radford share deep connection on, off iceTwo-time world champions work hard to add throw triple axel to repertoire
In the middle of an event-filled week in Finland, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford talked to icenetwork about the process of learning a new throw, dealing with criticism and developing their relationship -- on and off the ice.
It started as a joke.
For normal people, it would have remained just that -- a joke. How could you possibly think of learning the throw triple axel when you had never even tried a single, let alone a double? And when you hadn't trained your own solo axels for eight years?
For Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, there was nothing unusual about learning new, difficult elements. Since breaking through at the world level, they had already added the throw triple lutz and the throw quad salchow to their repertoire.
But quad throws are not allowed in the short program, so they thought they needed something else to stand out.
"We would go joking, 'Maybe if they don't allow a quad, we have to learn the triple axel,'" Duhamel told icenetwork. "Then we started thinking, how do you even do a throw axel? We didn't even know to hold each other on the takeoff."
Radford thought he had an idea.
"Normally, it's done so that Meagan's right hand is in my left hand, and then I have my hand around her waist," he said. "We were thinking that maybe it would be easier if we did it with her left hand in my left hand, like in the salchow, to let her jump an axel on her own. We actually tried it that way, which is totally wrong, and we couldn't even do a single. So we literally started from scratch."
It was just before the 2016 World Championships in Boston that the couple started practicing the throw single axel at the end of their training sessions.
"Just for fun. We were just guessing," Duhamel said. "When we started learning the double, we were away on tour and didn't have a coach with us. We put the throw double axel in our programs on tour just to practice it. Some days, we couldn't do it in practice, and then I was so scared in the show.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, here comes this throw' -- which, in my head, is a double axel and should be easy. But, actually, it was quite complicated to learn."
Adding to the difficulty was the fact that it had been years since the Canadians had trained even their solo axels.
"The double axel is not worth really anything in pairs," Duhamel said. "We can do jumps that are worth more, so I never had to practice it. But when we decided we would try the throw, I thought, I have to re-learn my own axel, just to train my body again how I do my axel, because I knew that doing the axel on my own would help the throw.
"And it was easy. I could do the double axel right away."
Part of your soul
Things weren't always easy for Duhamel and Radford, though. The pair has faced their fair share of criticism over the years. In the beginning, they heard how their styles and physical appearances were too different, and that they weren't a good match for each other.
For Radford, comments about the skaters' lack of a connection on the ice simply felt unfair.
"I can feel a connection when we are skating. It was annoying when someone stated that as a fact, when they had a bias against us," Radford said. "It takes time to find a meeting point of two styles, but I think we have done that. It shows year by year, and it's showing in our marks."
Later, when Radford came out publicly as gay in 2014, he was afraid there might be negative comments. Instead, the majority of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
Last week, he again found himself feeling anxious. Radford, who holds a Royal Conservatory of Music certificate, composed the free skate music for fellow Canadian skater Patrick Chan, who performed the program for the first time in front of an audience at the Finlandia Trophy.
Chan's choreographer, David Wilson, had the structure of the program already set up when he contacted Radford.
"The music is called 'A Journey,' and it's actually a combination of two different pieces of music that Patrick had chosen," Radford said. "When David came to me saying that Patrick was going to use my music, he had already structured the program and had already cut the music based on the ideas that I had given Patrick.
"All I had to do was go back into the studio and re-record it so that it sounded like one piece of music rather than two. In the recording, it was me playing the piano with some strings, some cello and some violins, and I think it came together really well."
Radford wasn't able to watch Chan perform his free skate in competition, as he had booked an early return flight home. Instead, Radford sneaked into the practice rink between the pairs competition to watch Chan's run-through -- or rather, listen to it. He found himself actually watching the spectators and their reactions, to see if people were talking to each other.
"It made me a bit nervous. Just as any other performance, it can be critiqued. It's music, and it's a deep part of who I am; it's part of my soul," Radford said. "But at the same time, to have a skater like Patrick Chan, who is one of the best skaters of all time, take that piece of me and make it come alive in a totally different way is something that I'm so excited to see."
The sixth sense
In the seven years since they first paired up, Duhamel and Radford have gone on quite a journey themselves.
"When we started skating together, we were both single," Duhamel said, reminiscing. "Now we are both in serious relationships. I'm married now, and I kind of have a different direction in life than seven years ago, when I was living by myself and doing what I wanted. So, away from the rink, we were together more often back then than now.
"Eric has his partner, and Bruno [Marcotte] (her husband and the team's primary coach) and I have our own weekend lives, so I guess you can say it has separated us a little bit," she continued. "Still, our relationship with each other right through the beginning helped improve our skating relationship so quicky. We have an understanding of each other and a very compatible working relationship. We never spent a day arguing. Instead, we were always working towards the same goal, and the fact that we shared this goal obviously helped a lot as well."
Over the years, the team has developed a kind of sixth sense, an unspoken connection, if you will.
"It's extremely rare that we are going to have different emotions or different feelings or different understanding," Duhamel said. "You learn to read a person's body language and expression. After spending so much time together and training together for so long, I think we really understand each other and can get the sense of what the other one is feeling or thinking before they say it."
"It's very true," Radford said. "If Meagan comes in and she is feeling a little tired, even before she says anything to me, I pretty much feel the same way. We are so connected on every level that we start getting on the same sort of flow."
Time and mileage
They are on the same wavelength with their priorities as well.
While training the throw triple axel at home in Montreal this summer, the pair experienced a small setback when a cyst appeared on Radford's ankle bone.
"It was not painful, but it was slowly getting larger, so the doctor said I should have it removed," he said.
Surgery followed, and after taking two weeks off, Radford returned to the ice -- but the ankle wasn't healed. He and Duhamel were scheduled to do a tour in Japan, but they agreed that they were better off staying home to let Radford's ankle heal fully and get their programs ready.
"It was worth it," Radford said. "For new elements, you just need a lot of training time at home. The programs have gotten together so well, and we feel more prepared than last year this time."
The duo attempted the throw triple axel in the short program at Finlandia but weren't able to land it.
"The triple axel is quite consistent in practice, but it needs mileage under pressure," Duhamel said. "We hope that with each competition the element improves and we can start to rely on it."
Landing the new throw is one of the team's major goals for the season, but the evolution of both of their new programs is equally important.
"A lot of our goals have become more personal and not score based," Radford said. "A good skate is what makes us feel happy. Taking it competition by competition and improving and having our good skates at those important moments under pressure. If [the throw triple axel] doesn't happen, we are still going to be OK."