It’s generally acknowledged that one of the most difficult things to do in sport is defend a title.
But what if you’re not even sure that you want to compete?
“I remember going to Skate Canada (in late October) and I sat in the kitchen with (husband and coach) Bruno (Marcotte) and I said ‘I don’t know what’s my goal. I don’t know what we want to do at Skate Canada’,” Duhamel recalled shortly after their career best free skate in Boston. “He was like ‘well you better figure that out.’”
Last year the goals had been very clear: win their first Grand Prix event, win the Grand Prix Final, land the quad Salchow, win the world title. But a strange thing happens when you accomplish those goals and don’t set new ones.
“It’s kind of like we were wandering around aimlessly,” Duhamel has said more than once this week of their general attitude that they just hoped to win again.
“I think we got a bit lazy in how we trained day in and day out. It can’t be enough to just land a quad each day. We need to do a +2 or +3 throw quad because that’s within our ability,” said Radford. “And we just weren’t doing that for some point at the beginning of the season.”
They were able to pull out the victories at Skate Canada and NHK Trophy, but were far from the standard they had set for themselves in going undefeated the year prior. Then their string of international wins was snapped at nine at the Grand Prix Final.
“It was creating so much frustration that I started to wonder ‘Is that the end? Maybe is it time to stop competing? Can I never reach the level I want again?’” said Duhamel. “And then Bruno used to tell me that if I’m getting frustrated, it means I still care.”
The national championships rolled around in January. What should have been a cakewalk to their fifth title was anything but as they encountered jump issues. Still able to take the gold, they decided enough was enough.
“We came home from nationals, sat down with Julie (Marcotte, their choreographer) and made a plan on how to be here at worlds and do what we just did,” said Duhamel. “How were we going to get there? What steps were we going to take? Revising the music of the long program was one thing. The mental approach to our training and our competition was another thing.”
Radford continued: “After nationals, before we had that talk, when we sat down Meagan said, and we hadn’t talked to each other at all about how we were feeling individually, and she said ‘I just wonder do I still really want to do this?’ and I said ‘I was just thinking the same thing.’ We’re always on the same page somehow even though we won’t talk directly about it.”
Their effort to be better was immediately noticeable.
“We started performing the long program at 9 o’clock in the morning in our training rink like it was the world championships,” said Duhamel. “And when we did that you started to notice the energy change. Everybody in our rink, every runthrough we did, they’d slowly stand back by the boards and watch us and that’s when you know that your energy is in the right place.”
The turnaround made, they were ready to show the world at Four Continents before Duhamel got struck by a stomach bug that forced them to withdraw after the short program. Two weeks ago after a rough training morning they went for a refresher session with Marcotte.
“We both told her ‘It’s starting again, I’m starting to feel lost, I’m starting to feel frustrated’ and because we told her right away she got us back on track immediately,” said Duhamel. “And the next day we did a perfect runthrough in training.”
Suffice to say, one lesson was learned.
“I guess we need to be more open when we feel like this so we don’t go through half the season feeling like it but I think that was the course this year had to take and if it didn’t go that way, maybe we wouldn’t have ended it that way,” Duhamel reflected.
They also learned not to be distracted by the challengers for their world title, including Russia’s reigning Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who were returning after a year away from competition.
“We made the mistake of starting to pit ourselves against them and trying to predict if we skate like this we could score like this. We were analyzing the pairs skating world too much and when we finally let all that go and just concentrated on ourselves, which we did last season, everything comes together and now we know,” said Radford.
Their free skate in Boston was one that he says they’ll be happy with for the rest of their career. Besides the positive grades of execution on their throw quad Salchow, they earned four perfect 10 individual component marks from the judges. They’d only ever received one previously, in the short program at last year’s Grand Prix Final.
“It makes my heart smile,” said Duhamel.
They had the heart of every Canadian smiling on Saturday, including the thousands who had made the short trip to Boston and joyfully sang O Canada right along with the world champions.