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Japanese, Canadian pairs face off at Mid-Atlantics

Takahashi, Tran defeat training partners Duhamel, Radford

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan debuted their 2011-12 programs last weekend.
Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan debuted their 2011-12 programs last weekend. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(09/20/2011) - Top-10 world pairs rarely square off at a North American summer event, but two chose the Middle Atlantic Figure Skating Championships, held at New York's Chelsea Piers Sept. 15-18, to debut their 2011-12 programs.

Japanese champions Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, who finished ninth at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow, won a split decision over Canadian silver medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who came in seventh in Moscow.

The Canadians edged the Japanese in the short program, but Takahashi and Tran came back with a strong free skate and won the event by 7.24 points.

The faceoff was nothing new for the teams, who both train under Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte in Saint-Leonard, Quebec.

"A little competition is always good," Marcotte said. "At the end of the day, both [teams] have high expectations. They want top marks and, eventually, the podium at worlds, and the only way to get there is to push themselves every day." "Eric and Meagan, the more they compete, the better they get, so that's why they came," he said. "As for [the Japanese], last year they did a lot of Junior Grand Prix [events], and I felt that got them ready early, and I think they benefitted from that on the senior Grand Prix. We felt it was a good idea to have a competition to replace the Junior Grand Prix this season."

Takahashi and Tran's intricate and elegant short program -- choreographed by Marcotte's sister, Julie Marcotte, to John Lennon's "Imagine" -- has already been audience tested. The team performed it in shows in Japan this summer.

"It was in smaller rinks, and it wasn't a competition mood, but we went over the patterns again and again until it was really comfortable," said Tran, a 20-year-old Saskatchewan native who teamed with Takahashi in 2007. "At the end of the shows, we went back to our choreographer and modified a bit of it so it was bigger and grander."

Takahashi fell on a triple toe but nailed the landing of a throw triple Salchow and gained superb positions in the lift. Their double twist and three other elements gained level four, and the team earned 53.29 points. Despite a few glitches -- Tran made uncharacteristic mistakes on a triple toe-double toe combination and triple Salchow, and Takahashi turned out of the landing of the throw triple Salchow -- they earned a solid early-season score of 105.87 points, some 8.33 ahead of their training mates' free skate total.

"This is our first time showing the program, and it seems like everyone enjoyed it," said the tiny, 19-year-old Takahashi, who hails from Chiba, in the greater Tokyo area. "We enjoyed it, too, but we think we need more practice to skate better. It was a good start."

"We got all of the levels we were hoping for in the long; everything was level four," Tran said. "In the short, we got all our levels as well, except for a little mishap in the step sequence. It confirmed for us we're on the right path."

Marcotte, too, likes what he sees from his young team.

"I think this year they have two great programs and so far the feedback has been really, really good," he said. "The main thing is consistency of the elements, and for this time of year I was happy with the way they skated. They showed maturity, they showed a lot of sureness, despite the rink [being] a little smaller and the natural light.

"The goal was to come here and put them in a situation out of their comfort zone, and I felt they dealt with it really well."

Takahashi and Tran hope to add more difficulty to their routines.

"To get the triple twist and throw [triple] flip in the program for our Grand Prix events, that would be killer," Tran said. "We're known for having everything else, for having nice graceful connections and high levels, so we want to be known for the big tricks, too. We want to make the [Grand Prix] Final for sure, and we're shooting for top five at worlds."

"We like doing [the triple twist], and our program is harder," Takahashi said. "[Our coaches] made it harder than last year. Going into every element, we are transition wise and speed wise [adding] a lot more difficulty."

Takahashi is also working to gain consistency in her triple jumps, which have sometimes been a weakness.

"I will for sure, for every competition, land the triple toes," the determined youngster said. "I am working on the triple toe and triple Salchow, and more."

A question mark hangs over Takahashi and Tran. To compete for Japan at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Tran would have to become a Japanese citizen, which under that country's laws requires a tough decision.

"I would have to give up my Canadian citizenship," he said.

"We're not ruling anything out," Marcotte said. "The door is open."

The Canadians also skated two new Julie Marcotte-choreographed programs at Mid-Atlantics, including a short to flamenco music and free to selections by Coldplay.

They won the short with 54.38 points, despite Duhamel's fall on a triple flip. Their other elements were solid, and their opening level two triple twist gained plus marks from all six judges.

The team hasn't always executed the triple twist with such ease; in Moscow, Duhamel broke Radford's nose during a collision on the element.

"The nose is back to normal. There's a little bit of a bump that wasn't there before, but I guess that's just a reminder of my first worlds," the 26-year-old Radford joked.

After some hard work this summer, what was once a challenge has become a potential strength.

"[The triple twist] was still a work in progress last year because I hadn't done a triple twist since 2005, and we didn't do it in the beginning of the season," Duhamel, 25, said. "We only started doing it for nationals. It's still getting better and better, and we want to keep getting higher level for it.

"It's been going really well lately. It's been getting a lot higher, and we get a cleaner catch, so I don't hit him. It's becoming just another element instead of being a main focus element."

Although both are strong jumpers, they are still grappling with which triple jump to present in the short.

"We've been playing around with the jumps in the short program, because I haven't landed the jump yet since we started skating together," Duhamel said. "We've tried Lutzes, we've tried toes, we've tried flips. We're going to keep on playing until we find the magic key."

Their Coldplay free skate at Mid-Atlantics opened with a solid triple twist, followed by triple flip-double toe-double toe combinations and intended triple Salchows, with the remainder of the difficult elements loaded in the second half.

They earned 97.54 points, losing ground when they doubled the Salchows and Duhamel fell on the landing of a throw triple flip.

"We added a triple Salchow this year [to the free] versus a triple toe last year. We have some different lifts, and we also put all of the lifts in the second half to get the bonus [points]," Radford said. "We do throw [triple] flip and loop, and they're also both in the second half, so we're really maximizing our points, which means it's all a lot more challenging."

Duhamel, who won three Canadian medals with previous partner Craig Buntin, teamed with Radford, a former Canadian junior pairs champion, after Buntin retired in 2010.

"Last year our programs were made a little bit simpler choreographically so we could focus on the elements, and now we have to take that step to add more transitions, more intricacy," Duhamel said.

"Definitely, we want to win the Canadian title; last season, we were happy to be on the world team. This year we want to go to worlds as national champions. We had our Canadian camp last week with the national team, and it went really well. We feel like it was a good start."

Marcotte thinks they are well on their way.

"I think they have music they are comfortable with, and they are able to evolve and show their strength," Marcotte said.

"They've always had the tough elements; the goal now is to be able to do those tough elements in a later stage in the program with more transitions into them. That's why we do these competitions, because it's going to take a bit longer to get to their high point, but eventually at the end of the day, when it's time for the big competition, it's going to be worked out."

Notes from Mid-Atlantics

Ross Miner, who placed 11th in his worlds debut in Moscow, won the senior men's event. The U.S. bronze medalist looked sharp in his Latin short program, landing a triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe. He debuted a promising new free to music from The Untouchables and gained valuable feedback from some of the many international officials in attendance ... U.S. novice pairs bronze medalists Audrey Goldberg and Joe Dolkiewicz, who are coached by Isabelle Brasseur and Rocky Marval in New Jersey, took a big step up in winning the junior event, landing a throw triple Salchow and triple twist in their free skate for the first time. . . Estonian Elena Glebova, who trains under Igor Krokavec in Hackensack, N.J., dominated the senior ladies event, winning both the short program and free skate.