Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford: "We are only beginning to reach our goals"
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford open their Olympic Grand Prix series with the home event of Skate Canada International in Saint John, New Brunswick. This Canadian province has already proven lucky for them; in 2012 they won their first national title in Moncton. From there started their rise to a second national title, gold at 2013 Four Continents championships and bronze at Worlds 2013. Will their ambitions and hopes for the coming season result fighting their way to the top again?
We caught up with them a week before the event, starting our talk with the new programs they've already shown at smaller competitions earlier this season.
Music for your short program was composed by Eric, initially as a piano version and then arranged as an orchestral piece. Have you ever considered trying to skate to the first, piano version?
Eric: I knew that I wanted it to be orchestrated, to really fill the arena. As just a piano piece it wouldn't have that specific "Olympic potential". I think, having it as a piano piece - maybe even adding words, having somebody singing to it - could be an idea for the future, when Meagan and I can use it as a show program. But it was my intention, if I were to ever skate to one of my pieces that I wrote on the piano that I would have it orchestrated and really kind of "enlarged", to make it big enough to fill an arena.
This piece has so many instruments, even voice, so powerful, it looked a bit overwhelming, and it almost took the attention from the skating itself...
Meagan: I think when we are at the Olympics and we're skating in a very big arena, with a lot of energy it's going to have a different effect than on the video that you saw from a very small competition. There were really not many people in the stands, the energy was low.
We're looking forward to seeing how this program develops. Meagan, in general, how many of Eric's other pieces did you listen to?
Meagan: He puts his videos on his Facebook, the piano pieces. But this was the first one that he brought to our choreographer and to myself and said that he wanted to use it for skating.
Did it occur to you to think that you'll skate to his music some day?
Meagan: I don't think that I really thought about it. I guess now it seems obvious, that it should have passed through our minds, but I think we had so many other things that we were trying to work on every year, we were skating to so many different types of music, it hadn't really crossed my mind.
Your long program is going to be to "Alice in Wonderland" and you called it "colourful" in one of your interviews...
Eric: Our idea was to have something a little bit more theatrical than we've done in the past, something that has a very clear idea. We've tried to tell stories with our programs in the past, and I think we've done a pretty good job, but this program is very obvious and relatable. It will be very obvious and relatable for the audience when they see it. It's very "Alice in Wonderland", there are different characters from the story, there's the Mad Hatter, there's Alice...
So you portray Alice and the Mad Hatter?
Eric: I'm partly the Mad Hatter, but I meet Alice as the Mad Hatter and we go to Wonderland together. It's not like when Alice meets the Mad Hatter in Wonderland [already]. We are going on this adventure together.
And in terms of the style of skating, it's a much more modern style, there are not as many long, sort of balletic type of lines, it's with more angles, and [we're] using our bodies to create different shapes and stuff. I think our choreographer, Julie Marcotte, did an amazing job of creating the "flavour", with our styles and our skating, to this music.
Will you have some colourful and crazy costumes inspired by the movie?
Meagan: We had some problems creating the costumes for this program, because this summer we tried to make crazy costumes, but we were told they were a little bit too crazy! They didn't look nice on the ice, they didn't fit our bodies very well, and although they were very colourful and very different, we didn't feel that they looked very nice. So we decided to make new ones, and they're going to give them to us today, so we'll have them for Skate Canada.
You mentioned in one of your interviews that usually the goal you set for yourselves at a certain competition is not the placement, but the score you want to achieve. So, for example, what are more or less the points you expect to get at your coming competitions?
Meagan is the one who is in charge of setting points?
Meagan: Yeah! (laughs) We have a mathematician, she works for the federation, and every year she gives us a chart and breaks down that if we skate our very best this is how much we are going to score, in the short program and in the long program, for technical and for artistic and what not. So how we would like to build throughout our season is: it would be very successful if next week at Skate Canada we can score over 70 points in the short and around 135 in the long. I think that would be a great way to start the season, and we would like to build those scores even higher. In every competition we want to have a new personal best score. So last year we did a very good job, almost every competition achieving a new personal best. We would like to do that again this year.
If we talk about setting points and numbers, are you aware of the new world record scores set by the Russian pair at Nebelhorn? (this talk took place before Skate America, where Volosozhar/Trankov broke their world records once again - ed.)
Eric: Yes, we saw that! Both Meagan and I, we like to watch all the competitions. I like watching not just my competitors, but all the skaters. I like to see the new programs, to see how people skate; I still like to watch skating, just as a sport I still find it very exciting. And along with that I get to see how our competitors are scored.
Meagan: We like to follow all the competitions. And seeing how well the Russians scored at Nebelhorn motivates us to want to also score very high this year. We think we are very capable of getting high scores as well.
Richard Gauthier, your coach, said in one of his interviews that three years is the time that is needed to create a pair. Do you agree? And how would you describe each "stage" you went through as a pair team during those three years?
Eric: I think that he's quite right about that, you will see that with most teams. Our very first year together was really about "learning to do the elements", not only at practice but also how to compete, to make sure that you can do a relatively clean program. The second year, we tried to add some more difficult transitions, working on adding difficulty to the lifts and getting more levels on each element. Last year we really tried to push the second mark and the transitions, to make very difficult programs, so that the judges would have no choice but to give us high component marks. We've learned that what we really need is to have that ease and that flow in our skating, and that's what comes with time. You can't skate for three hours a day just working on that when you're a new team, you need time to work to get those elements so that they're so easy you can start working on all the in between stuff and the flow.
This year we found out that it comes so naturally, we don't need to be looking at each other to know where we are, we know exactly what we need to do and it really happens without us thinking about it. Whereas in the first few years we had to be very aware, very careful about where we were on the ice, how our patterns work going into our elements, and now it's a lot easier.
Meagan: I agree with everything Eric said, I think that there's nothing that can take the place of experience. Now Eric and I have had a lot of experience together, not only in competitions, but also in shows. This spring we were able to do the "Stars on Ice" tour in Canada, and I think that our skating was brought to a new level after we did it. Having to perform every night we really learned how to skate comfortably, how to perform, how to execute things smoothly, and we came back from the tour as a new transformed team.
If we don't talk about the technical side and more about the relationship in the pair, you looked like a real great team from your first year already.
Eric: I think Meagan and I really have had a very natural relationship, on the ice, of course, but also off the ice. We have very similar backgrounds, we have similar careers, and similar goals... we're just very similar! (laughs) And we also have very similar personalities and it has made the entire experience fun, like from day one of skating together: we've always had fun, we've always worked really hard, and we never fight. I think we both have a very visceral joy of skating. Well, we do have different personalities; I think that I'm more introverted and Meagan is more extroverted, but deep down inside I think that we are almost exactly the same.
Meagan: There were a lot of things that Eric and I had to work on in terms of becoming a top pair and matching our skating styles and matching our bodies, which are obviously so different from each other. But I think that we have with each other and with our coaching team an ideal working relationship. We are all on the same page, working towards the same things. And this way it was so much easier to achieve success.
Another thing your coach mentioned in his interview was that there are certain styles and themes your pair can't "sell" well. He mentioned his students, Salé/Pelletier, and their "Love Story", saying that for you, for example, this wouldn't work. What do you think is the style that works for your pair the best?
Meagan: Since we started skating, we have tried many different styles and programs. We tried classical, we tried Spanish, we tried something different like the "Coldplay" program, and we tried very exciting programs like our last year's short program. And we've been searching for our style, for three years now, trying to figure out what could define Meagan and Eric. Last year we tried a long program that was in a more classical style, we tried to match, but when Eric and I stretch our legs, we don't match, my leg is never going to look as long as Eric's leg, it doesn't matter how much ballet I do, I have short muscular legs. When I get down on my knees, I get down lower than Eric, because he has a longer way to get down to bend to match me. So this year by taking the path we do with "Alice in Wonderland" we were able to mismatch things on purpose. We're doing a lot of "broken" leg and "broken" arm movements, on purpose, we're not trying to glide across the ice with the stretch.
Another thing, with regards to Richard saying we couldn't do the "love story" program: I don't think that Eric and I can style our skating and personalities to display a love story on ice. Yes, we love to skate together and we love the journey that skating has taken us on, but if we try to display a romantic love style, it doesn't seem to come across the same way that other teams are able to do that.
Eric: It just won't really come across as believable.
Japanese pair Narumi Takahashi/ Mervin Tran were your "sparring partners", but this pair doesn't exist anymore. Is this good or bad for your practices? Do you have other teams on the ice with you now? Or maybe you prefer not having to share attention with the other strong pair?
Eric: Right now we have a few teams that we train with. There is another senior team, Mervin Tran and Natasha Purich; they would be the highest level team that we train with, but as you know they are a very new team. We have a couple of junior teams, including Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps who have a lot of potential. They are going to compete as juniors this year and you'll definitely see them in the future. It was different when we trained with Narumi and Mervin, we were always in a kind of competition, it was a fierce rivalry, and we were always close in our points. But it's not something that Meagan and I require, we can work really hard on our own or with other teams. But it's always nice; skating with other teams brings a lot of energy to the arena and it makes just more fun to train.
Meagan: In regards to sharing the attention with Takahashi and Tran, I don't think that either they or we got more attention. Every day we have the same lessons, we each spend half an hour with Richard (Gauthier), half an hour with Bruno (Marcotte), we see our choreographer the same... So there was never one team getting more attention than the other. Our coaching team did a very good job of giving everybody enough lessons. Eric and I receive the same attention as the lowest ranked novice team at the rink. It's very fair. And in training with other teams it doesn't matter what's the level, Eric and I like the energy. We don't like to be on the ice by ourselves to train, it's boring when it's like that.
You were already asked about the team event in Sochi and you sounded more enthusiastic about it than other skaters. One of the common complaints was the tough schedule, especially for pairs.
Eric: I think that in general we are very excited about something new, and maybe a reason we're more excited is because we are such a strong team. The Canadian team has a great shot of winning the gold medal. Although in terms of the timing of the event, I think that almost all the skaters would have preferred if the team event was after the individual events, especially for the pair teams because we are the closest to compete to the team event. I think ideally for Meagan and I it would be nice if we could just do the short program, and then have the other Canadian team do the long program, instead of having to do four programs in six days.
And who will decide this?
Meagan: We don't know what we're going to be doing. We are waiting for our federation to give us the final answer. We understand that you can substitute two disciplines, to have one pair do the short and one pair do the long, and then one man do the short and one man do the long, and then the girl and the dance team to do everything. We don't know yet in which disciplines Canada will be swapping skaters so it's also possible that Eric and I will have to do both the short and the long at the team event, and then go to our own event, but like Eric said we're really hoping that we'll just do the short program.
You've already skated in Sochi during the last Grand Prix Final. What were your impressions from the venue, from the city, in general, of Russia's readiness to hold the Games?
Eric: You know that's funny, just the other day there was a news story about Sochi and about how they are working around the clock and it's costing so much money. I haven't really thought about it but it feels a bit worrisome that maybe not everything is going to be ready! (laughs) About the venue... the Iceberg arena was beautiful, everything was really nice, and everything was ready so I think that's the most important thing. The city of Adler was very beautiful, on the Black Sea. I think if it is all finished it's going to be really, really nice. But I'm sure there is a lot of stress and I just hope that they can bring it all together in less than three and a half months!
What's next after Sochi? I guess you're planning to go to Worlds 2014 too.
Meagan: Yes, Eric and I are planning to go to Worlds; we feel that it's going to be a big opportunity for us to win the World title.
And after that?
Meagan: We are planning to continue to compete. We'll probably take it year by year, after this season we will dedicate ourselves to the next season and we're going to see mostly how our bodies feel. I think that the most important thing is going to be how long our bodies will allow us to continue. We feel like we are still improving, we're only beginning now to reach our goals, so it's just the start for us and we don't feel like it's time to stop yet.
With the experience you had at "Stars on Ice" tour and at "Opera on Ice", do you feel like this is something you would like to continue with when you retire? Or maybe it's not challenging and competitive enough for you?
Meagan: We love to perform at any opportunity we have whether it's a small show, a big show, a small competition or a big competition. We treat our shows the same way as the competitions, we get just as nervous to go on the ice [in shows] as we do when we're competing at the World Championships. We always want to skate our best, we're both perfectionists. So we're always trying to challenge ourselves even if just in a show. And because we treat shows like we do competitions it is exciting for us and we would love to continue to skate in shows for as long as people invite us (laughs).
Eric: Exactly, I would love to do shows as long as possible! I hope that we'll have a really successful career, so that we can do shows as long as possible. Because I'm starting to realize the more shows we do, the more I'm falling in love with just the aspect of performing in front of an audience, trying to bring the audience in to our skating. As Meagan mentioned before, I think that what we've learned, by doing the "Stars on Ice" tour, was how to connect with the audience even more. Of course in the competition you have to execute the elements as well as possible, but there's a special energy when you're performing for an audience. Especially at a show like "Opera on Ice" in the Arena di Verona, with live music, it's a really special experience, not just for the audience but for the skater too! I hope that we get such opportunities again and again and again during our career!
The higher results you achieve, the more you get noticed and invited. How do you deal with this increasing attention on you? Do you enjoy it?
Meagan: We like it! (both laugh)
The better you do in competitions, the more results you get, the more offers will come your way - for shows, sponsorships and opportunities, any opportunities. We are so lucky to be getting these opportunities now, because we were never in the position to be invited to something like this. We were very fortunate with the timing of the show in Verona: the Grand Prix hadn't started yet, there was a little bit of downtime in our season. We hate to say "no" to any opportunity, but that happens sometimes. We were asked to go back to Italy to do a show in December, but unfortunately travelling back to Europe after being in Japan for the Grand Prix Final and before our own National Championships, will not work to our advantage.
What about the attention from the media? Don't you feel "overloaded" by it already?
Eric: We had already gotten a lot of coverage and interviews out of the way, we do a lot of it at our national team camp; we did like a full day of interviews. But I think that something Meagan and I share is that we just enjoy talking to our fans, to the media. This is what we waited for, to be at a point where people want to hear what we're thinking; they want to know about us. There will come a time when they don't want it anymore (laughs), it doesn't last forever! I think we both take the moment, and we don't take it for granted. And we want to do as much as we feel we can, while the moment is happening.
It is amazing to look four years back and see your journey. Back then, when you didn't qualify for Olympics in Vancouver you, Meagan, described your feelings as if you "ran into a brick wall". What helped you to continue and to get to where you're now?
Meagan: When I first realized that my partner and I wouldn't be competing at the Olympics, I can't imagine any worse feeling that an athlete [can feel], except for maybe the athlete who comes in fourth at the Olympics and misses a medal. It was really heartbreaking but the feeling that I had, of absolute despair, of being lost, it didn't last very long, because soon after that I was watching the Olympics and I was imagining when I would be competing in Sochi. As much as it hurt not being able to compete in Vancouver, watching from my couch gave me more motivation to be there, at the Olympics. I had a smallest bit of hope inside my soul and my heart, that one day I would be there, and I just never let go of it. I hold on to it. And I was fortunate enough to start skating with Eric shortly after that. He was in the same position as me. So I had this little bit of hope, and he had this little hope, and we took that and we built a strong foundation and a strong partnership on it.