You don’t hear a lot of cowbell at figure skating events.
But when Canada’s skaters took the ice Tuesday, for the pairs short program, a familiar clang was heard ringing out from the crowd.
It was the same Canadian cowbell that cheered on Jon Montgomery to a gold medal in skeleton at the 2010 Vancouver Games. But even though Montgomery isn’t competing at these Olympics, the bell is back for an encore.
When Montgomery missed qualifying for the Canadian skeleton team, his uncle, George, came up with a backup plan.
Canadian pairs team Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers train in Virden, Man., at the same rink where George plays pickup hockey. Before the pair headed off to Sochi, he passed the lucky bell on to the first-time Olympians.
“He always comes and stands at the door to the ice and watches a little bit of our practice,” Lawrence said. “And then, the day before we came here, we obviously went over and gave him a hug, and he’s like, ‘Since Jon isn’t going, I want to send you this bell that we used when he won the gold.’ That was really cool.”
The bell, now wielded by Lawrence’s parents, did its part Tuesday.
Lawrence and Swiegers skated their best short program of the season, scoring 58.97. They are in 13th heading into Wednesday’s long program.
But the bell didn’t clang just for them.
Canadian podium threats Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford sit in fifth place after the short program, with a score of 72.21, and a legitimate shot at a medal if things go well in the free skate. Right behind them, in sixth, are Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (70.92).
Russia’s powerhouse team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are in first with 84.17 points. They are followed by Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (79.64) and Russia’s Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (73.30).
Duhamel and Radford came into the competition having skated their short program only a few days earlier in the team event.
“Doing another short was a strange feeling for us, to try to find our focus and how we want to feel,” Radford said. “The crowd before we skated, with the Russians having such a great skate and putting such a great score up, it was probably the most challenging skate I’ve had in terms of trying to keep our focus.”
They managed a strong performance, with solid execution on their lifts, though Duhamel said she had a “silly” little stumble in her footwork, which led to a minor deduction.
The crowds at the Iceberg Skating Palace have certainly been loud, particularly for those skaters who follow a Russian pair.
“It sounded like we were stepping on the ice in the middle of a Montreal Canadiens hockey game,” Duhamel said.
“After they score a goal,” Radford added.
They managed to hold their concentration despite the noise: “72 is a good score for us and we’re happy,” Duhamel said.
Moore-Towers and Moscovitch said they also feel within striking distance as they prepare for the long program, where more marks are available for the taking.
“Everything’s within a few points,” Moscovitch said. “There’s a lot of things that can happen in there.”
The Russians are a force in pairs skating, having won more golds than any other country in the history of the competition. But they come into Sochi with a particular drive, wanting to reclaim gold after Russia was kept off the podium at the 2010 Vancouver Games by China, which claimed gold and silver, and Germany (bronze).
“It’s very important to give gold back to Russia,” Trankov said. “But first, we have to skate a good [long] program.”