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'We saved the best for last': Canadian pairs skaters Duhamel and Radford win bronze medal

Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Canada's Eric Radford compete in the pair skating short program of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 14, 2018.

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

The Olympics are all about adrenaline — the kind that makes performances, and sometimes the kind that breaks them.

Heading into the pairs long program, in what would be the final competition of their careers, figure skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford were feeling a little unusual.

Duhamel felt it first during their morning practice, then again in her room at the athletes village, and once more as she was preparing to take the ice. It was the feeling of nothing — no nerves, no jumpiness, no adrenaline coursing through her body. None of the things that would normally having her feeling wired during such a pressure-filled moment.

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"Scarily calm," is how Duhamel described it later. "I was like, should I try to pump myself up? I feel too settled, and too calm."

Unknown to her, Radford was going through the same thing. What was going on? If the former world champions are known for anything, it's their intensity. And now, staring down retirement with an elusive Olympic medal on the line, both were overcome with — serenity?

Just go with it, they thought.

The plan worked. The pair not only turned in a strong performance but also a historic one, becoming the first pairs skaters to land a quad throw in Olympic competition, and winning a bronze medal in the process.

"It was exactly where we needed to be," Radford said later of their uncharacteristically placid demeanours heading into the skate.

The medal, their second of these Games after winning gold for Canada in the team competition, fills a hole in their career that was left vacant after a crushing loss in the pairs event four years ago in Sochi. Just as they did in Korea, Duhamel and Radford went into those Games as contenders. But in Sochi they finished seventh, falling prey to the nerves, adrenaline, and unexpected mistakes that come with skating on the sport's biggest stage.

"I remember leaving Sochi so disappointed, and I remember going outside and seeing my parents and my husband, and crying out of disappointment," Duhamel said.

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Win or lose, she vowed there would be no more grief. With retirement looming, Duhamel wasn't going out like that. "Today, I was like I don't care what I do because I refuse to cry because I'm disappointed when I get off the ice."

Perhaps it was that mindset that chased away the butterflies. Or perhaps it was that Duhamel, 32, and Radford, 33, have been near the top of the pairs figure skating world for so long that it was simply inevitable they would one day win an Olympic medal. Whatever it is, they're grateful – and a little relieved.

"I don't know if there's been happier bronze medalists," Duhamel said.

Germany's Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot took the gold with a combined score of 235.90 from the short and long programs, while China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong (235.47) claimed silver. Radford and Duhamel won the bronze with a combined score of 230.15.

The Canadians were ranked third after the short program. The Germans, skating their long program before Canada, managed what would be the top mark of the day, vaulting them into first with 159.31 points in the free skate.

That left Duhamel and Radford, who scored 153.33 a few minutes later, waiting anxiously for the Russian and Chinese pairs to see if they could hold onto a podium spot.

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China moved into second place with a score of 153.08, but the Russian powerhouse team of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov made an uncharacteristic mistake when Tarasova fell on a throw. That stumble would drop the Russians to fourth, securing the medal in pairs skating that had eluded Duhamel and Radford for so long.

"After [the Russians] finished skating, I was holding Eric's hand and I said, 'I think we did enough.' And Eric's like, 'No, I'm not going to believe it until the marks come up.' And I was like, Eric, 'I need hope, I need to feel hopeful,'" Duhamel said. "It was just a funny moment of our different personalities."

The win caps off a difficult few years for the team which saw them slip to seventh at last year's world championships after an injury-filled season. It was a low point, Radford said. But then he got some sage advice from former Canadian pairs skater David Pelletier, who won gold at the 2002 Olympics.

Because Duhamel and Radford had been in the spotlight for so long as world champions, maybe losing was a good thing, Pelletier suggested.

"I talked to him after worlds, and he was like, 'You know what, coming seventh at worlds might be the best thing that happened to you guys, because you're going to go into the Olympics under the radar and that's when you can hit, and then surprise everybody,'" Radford said.

Which is precisely what they did.

The successful quad throw wasn't the only history made by Radford. In helping Canada win the team figure skating event in Pyeongchang, he also became the first openly gay man to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, which has brought him acclaim beyond skating.

Duhamel and Radford are now three-time Olympic medalists, with a silver in the team event in Sochi as well. Both skaters said they have no plans to compete in the upcoming world championships, wanting to leave the ice as medal-winners at the Olympics.

"We saved the best for last," Radford said.

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