Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have taken a serious step toward seizing their first medal at a World Figure Skating Championships.
While the German and Russian pairs were all the talk coming into the competition, the Canadian duo sits in second place after skating its short program in front of an exuberant home crowd. Duhamel, 27, of Lively, Ont., and Radford, 28 from Balmertown, Ont., scored a season best 73.61.
They sit behind Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia (75.84), and, for the first time in international competition, the Canadian duo is ahead of the long-time German powerhouse team of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (73.47), winner of four world titles and an Olympic bronze medal.
"Our whole lives have been geared toward being on the world podium, but more so in the last year when we left the worlds in fifth place," said an elated Duhamel after the skate. "Every single day has been put toward being on the podium here in London. We had so much pressure, I felt so sick. I wondered 'what if I go to jump and my legs don't do it?' I felt like I might collapse. But as soon as the music started, we felt like we were in control."
Canada has two teams in the top five after the first day of pairs competition. Kirsten Moore-Towers, of St. Catharines, Ont., and her partner Dylan Moscovitch, from Toronto, are in fifth place after scoring a season best 69.25. Canada hasn't had two pairs finish the competition in the top five at a world championships since 1986.
Another goal for the two Canadian teams is performing well enough in London to secure a spot for a third Canadian pair to compete at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. If their combined placements total 13 or less, Canada will get to send a third pair to Sochi.
They must wait until Friday afternoon to skate the final part of the pairs competition, the free program.
Coming into the competition, many projected a battle for gold between the Germans and Russians. Volosozhar and Trankov have been on a roll recently, besting Savchenko and Szolkowy to win their second straight European title. They also won the Grand Prix Final back in December.
Volosozhar and Trankov fell just short of a world title a year ago, losing to the Germans. It's been eight years since a Russian pair has won a world title. Since Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won it twice in 2004 and 2005, it's been a German or Chinese pair atop the world each year.
The Canadians will need to keep up the big scores to land on the podium.
Skating to La Boheme, the Radford and Duhamel were smooth from the start on Wednesday, generating huge momentum when they nailed the triple Lutz, what they deem the most difficult element of their short program.
"When we landed it, we saw the look on everyone's faces watching down in the corner, and they were really excited," said Duhamel. "The crowd was really loud, and we loved it."
After just winning their second straight Canadian title back in January, Duhamel and Radford captured their first international pairs title by earning gold at the Four Continents championship in February. Despite being the first Canadian pair to claim that title since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier did it in 2002, Duhamel and Radford were disappointed with their long program score there, vowing afterward to boost it at worlds.
"We'll enjoy this for a little while, take it for what it is, and then it's in the past and on to the long program," said Radford on Wednesday. "We still have a job to do. We're not on that podium yet."
Canada's Patrick Chan will start his campaign for a third straight world title tonight in London during the men's short program. Ice Dance and the Ladies' competition begins Thursday.