Canadian pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford placed third in the Skate Canada International grand prix Saturday, with a disappointing free skate that dropped them out of top spot.
Though the pair, a medal favourite for Canada at the upcoming Sochi Olympics, had a few glitches in their performance, including missing on a key lift, the Canadians said afterward they were puzzled by their unusually low score. The lift cost them crucial points, but they were also docked points by the judges on other parts of their program that Duhamel and Radford believed they had executed.
Skating in front of a raucous home crowd in Saint John, Duhamel and Radford scored 121.05 points in the free skate, giving them a total of 190.62 for the weekend. That total left them behind Italian skaters Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek (193.92) and China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (193.77).
"It's a funny feeling right now," Radford said. "It was a very, sort of, unexpected result. With the lift, we know that's about 8 points, my lutz was a little sticky and we got a downgrade, so I know that's another about 3 points. So that's about 11 points – we understand that… Almost every other element we did didn't get the level that we were expecting and that we planned, and that adds up insurmountably, and that left us in third place."
Heading into Saturday's free skate, Duhamel and Radford were in good shape, sitting in first place after scoring 69.57 points in the short program Friday. Berton and Hotarek (69.38) were in second, followed by the pair from China in third (69.02).
About halfway through the long program, Duhamel and Radford had trouble with a lasso lift that may have been the result of an injury Duhamel suffered three weeks ago when she fell on a throw during training. Due to a slight shoulder injury, the pair modified the lift slightly. When it came to executing the move on Saturday, Radford said the slight variation may have contributed to the poor execution.
"I'm not making any excuses," Radford said. "Through the rehab we had to change the technique on that specific lift, just a little bit. It should go up fine. But when we get to that point of the program, a lot of it's just muscle memory, and when you are tweaking little things and you start thinking, ok make sure you do this, it can lead to problems. Maybe that's what happened."
The two skaters, however, were less concerned about the injury and more focused on going back and looking at their program and what might have gone wrong. The judges gave them higher scores on their artistic elements, than for their technical elements.
"The thing that we're going to have to go home and look at is our levels," Duhamel said, referring to how the judges assessed the difficulty of certain parts of their program. "Because we got level ones and twos on almost all of our elements. We're a little bit confused right now, and that's what we need to look at."
"We're not used to getting a really high artistic score and a really low technical score," she added. "This is different for us.
Italy's Berton and Hotarek were taken aback to skate away with the win in Canada. "It's a big surprise for us. We just went out today and we wanted to do our best, like we do every day," Hotarek said. "And today also we had a little bit of luck."
The Italian skaters overcame a pair of lost skates to get the victory. Travelling from Detroit to Saint Johns for the event, Hotarek's skates were lost by the airline and ended up in Chicago. That left him scrambling to find replacement skates before Friday's short program. At one point, Hotarek thought he might have to borrow a pair from Canadian men's figure skater Patrick Chan, who uses a similar blade. But his skates were eventually located and delivered before the event began, though the Italians entered the competition Friday unable to log as much practice as much as the other skaters.
It was an eventful weekend for Duhamel and Radford, who on Friday skated to Tribute, a piano score Radford wrote in honour of his former coach Paul Wirtz, who died of cancer in 2006. The pair skated to Alice in Wonderland on Saturday, honing both programs for the Sochi Olympics in February where they will be key medal contenders for Canada.
Despite the low scores received during the free skate on Saturday, Radford said he believes the program is strong and will be effective in Sochi.
"Despite the mistakes we could feel the energy in the building and I think the crowd could too," Radford said. "What we will concentrate on right now is the potential of that program. I think the potential is huge, I think that it's podium potential at the Olympics when we skate technically the way that we can, and when we hit our levels the way that we normally do."