Canadian pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford come to the world figure skating championships this year with different expectations.
For one thing, this time Duhamel hopes that she doesn't break Radford's nose, like last year, with an errant elbow that drew blood.
The other, is that they hope to score higher than ever and outdo last year's seventh place finish. They're inching ever closer to that goal and will go into the pair final Friday night, sitting in fifth place in the skating discipline that is the most risky of all. In pairs, you never know what can happen.
The short program was an example of the quixotic nature of the event, with one of the favourites, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia tumbling to the ice during a death spiral – not usually one of the riskier elements – and plunging to eighth place.
Duhamel said they learned so much from last year, and from all the steps between then and now. "It's been quite a journey," said Duhamel who had decided to retire from skating two years ago when her former partner, Craig Buntin retired, and she was dealing with multiple injuries that hurt as much as the frustration of having missed two Olympic Games by narrow margins.
Radford had his own frustrations, never quite making the upper echelons of the sport, even at home, although not for lack of trying. He even trained for a time in Germany with Ingo Steuer, coach of the Germans that are currently in the lead (Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy) but all for naught.
Both Duhamel and Radford come from small northern Ontario towns, Duhamel from Lively, Ont., and Radford from Balmertown, Ont,, just about as far north as you can go in the province and still find a road.
Duhamel left home at age 14 to find her dreams in skating,. Radford left at 13. It's taken them 12 years to get to this point.
They seemed at first like a miss-match, Radford with his long limbs and dance-like grace, Duhamel with her bulldog athleticism and strength.. He stands 6-foot-2, Duhamel at 4-foot-11. Still, it works.
And now they feel they are more equipped to deal with a world championship. "We have a lot more mileage," Duhamel said. They feel more confident. They've now competed against all of the top teams. Last year, they had not. It's no longer intimidating to be on the same ice. Now they want to carve their own spot. They are only in their second year together. They are still learning to compete.
They say they want to finish in the top five after the long program on Friday, if they do, it's one more step to the Sochi Olympics two years down the road, where they want to represent Canadian in a discipline that has always been a strength in this country.
They want to add their names to a list that includes 1060 Olympic champions Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, 2002 Olympic champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and world champions Maria and Otto Jelinek, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini; and Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler.
Duhamel and Radford may be the most unlikely pair of this group, but they have that dream. "All I wanted was to be at this level and now we're in the middle of it," Radford said.
They've come off one big learning experience. After the excitement of winning their first national title in January, they finished only fourth at the Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, with the lowest presentation scores they had all season. It was a bit of a mystery to them.
"I think sometimes it's difficult to understand," Radford said. "But it's part of figure skating that is not going to change. As an athlete, it can be so frustrating." But they learned they had to pay attention to small details and keep charging.
Duhamel and Radford had to rediscover the inner motivation to move on. So with plenty of time between Four Continents and the world championships, they took time off, and went to Mexico to recharge.
"Afterward, we felt completely different," Duhamel said. The energy returned. And how they hope to ride it.