Canadian pair skater Craig Buntin won't be writing home from Paris any time soon, not with his right hand.
The 28-year-old from Kelowna, B.C. and his partner Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., finished the pairs long program at the Trophee Eric Bompard Grand Prix in Paris on Saturday with a standing ovation - and Buntin's right hand in shreds.
The Canadians, ranked third in Canada, won the bronze medal, but they got their standing ovation for their courage and the uplifting manner in which they skated. They finished second in the long program, a major victory, in spite of the injury.
"I think the crowd was amazing,'' Duhamel said afterwards. "They were right behind us. I think Craig is the toughest, most determined person I know, so I knew once he said, I'm fine, I'm fine, I knew we would be okay.''
After only three elements, just as Duhamel was extending her leg after a jump, her upsweeping blade slashed the back of Buntin's right hand and Buntin was forced to stop. With Duhamel's face in her hands in shock, Buntin explained to the referee that he had been badly cut. Blood was streaming down his right hand.
"We coated the ice red,'' Buntin said afterwards. "It was great.''
Doctors wiped the blood from Buntin's hand and wrapped it in a bandage, leaving his fingers free to do the pair work he needed to do. Buntin said he may have severed a tendon in the hand, which swelled immensely after the accident. He will have it examined when he gets home. He got three stitches in the hand afterwards.
Coach Manon Perron held Duhamel's hands by the side of the rink while Buntin was bandaged. Duhamel said she found the incident scary, particularly since "I'm not much of a blood person. I felt like it was my fault, because I kicked him.''
Duhamel was in tears until Perron pulled her over and told her she was fine. Perron started discussing what they had already done on the ice and how good their work was. And because Duhamel had done only a double Salchow, Perron started to explain to her what went wrong, anything to get her mind off the incident.
"I'm getting used to problems,'' Duhamel said. "Nothing is ever easy. The road to our goals together has been one rough journey, right from day one. It makes it so much sweeter.''
International Skating Union rules say that after an interruption for something like an injury, skaters must pick up where they left off in their routines. When Duhamel and Buntin went back onto the ice, the music technicians could not find the spot at which they had left off, and the Canadians were left circling for a long time, as blood began to spot and spread on Buntin's bandage. Buntin gave thumbs up to the crowd.
As soon as they caught their cue, Duhamel and Buntin went into attack mode and skated aggressively to win the bronze medal behind world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, who were obviously not pleased at their performance.
After they finished, Savchenko skated down the ice, with her back turned to her partner, before they finally reunited to take their bows. After hearing the marks, Szolkowy quickly left the stage, leaving his partner behind with coach Ingo Steuer.
Savchenko and Szolkowy won the event with 188.50 points, their best this season, while Russians Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov were second with 170.87, more than 18 points behind the disgruntled winners.
Duhamel and Buntin got 166.63 points, more than 26 points ahead of a young Chinese team. Duhamel and Buntin also got their best score of the season.
"Sorry, mom,'' Buntin said into the television cameras after his gritty performance. When the Canadians finished, Buntin's bandage was soaked in blood, and blood was running down his fingers again. Blood was spattered across the back of Duhamel's costume.
Medics later reworked a heavy bandage on Buntin's hand, leaving only two fingers sticking out.
The world champions had trouble with their throws yesterday, as Savchenko fell on a throw triple flip and had only one rotation off a throw triple Salchow.
The Germans still won the long program with great ease, with 120.32 points, well ahead of Duhamel and Buntin with 107.97. The Canadians just edged the Russians, who had 106.03.
Duhamel and Buntin received the highest level of difficulty (four) on all of their elements but a step sequence, for which they were awarded a lower level two. That, too, was a triumph for the pair in only their second season together.
Buntin's injury occurred after their triple Salchow jumps. Buntin stumbled out of his and was out of position when Duhamel extended her free leg.
But after the incident and interruption, the pair landed an excellent double twist, a death spiral, a fine throw triple loop, two lifts, a couple of spins, and a rare and very difficult throw triple Lutz. This throw Lutz was so good, they got bonus marks for it.
"Between the shoulder [he had surgery on his right shoulder last summer]and everything else that has happened over the past few years, it was fine,'' Buntin said. "A 28-year-old full-time athlete, I'm skating injured most of the time anyway. What's one more thing?. As long as the gauze they put on held together, it was fine.
"It was really a moment. It was one of the performances that I'll remember as being a moment in my career,'' he said.