Published On: Sat, Jan 13th, 2018

'Passionate' throwback awakens Duhamel and Radford

VANCOUVER—Four years to get ready for the Pyeongchang Winter Games, planning every segment of preparation down to the minute, honing the edge at each competition as the calendar turns, weighing the music selection and the choreography and the whizz-bang elements, months rushing down towards O-Day, doing it in your damn sleep.

And scarcely a month before the opening ceremonies, deciding: Abort! Abort! Abort!

Which is essentially what Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford did in late December — ditching the “Muse” free-skate program they’ve put miles on all season and taking out of mothballs “Hometown Glory” by Adele, the well-received program which earned them gold at worlds in 2016 — last hurrah, really, for the Canadian pairs team who have twice stood star-lift astride the globe since Sochi. A domination that may have emerged too soon in the quadrennial cycle for the duo, as their scores and placements have regressed in the last two seasons.

In a sport that never stands still, the veterans have opted to seek sanctuary — and motivation rekindled — in the comfort zone of their hugely becoming “Hometown Glory.”

“We came to the conclusion that these type of emotional, passionate programs are what we do best,” says Duhamel.

As it happened, they were waiting to take the ice just after two-time Olympic gold medallist Ekaterina Gordeeva (with her late husband Sergei Grinkov) had performed her routine to the familiar Adele song. The music stuck like an earworm, evoking memories in Duhamel and Radford of their own haunting interpretation.

“I feel like this Adele program unites us,” says Duhamel. “It’s the style that we have found through our journey.”

They missed it. They admitted to each other that they pined for it. They acknowledged that, in the past, they didn’t have the nerve to change-up on programs late in the season even when a routine — their rather eccentric “Alice in Wonderland” soundtrack free from Sochi 2014 (seventh-place finish) comes most immediately to mind – didn’t feel right, hadn’t felt right throughout the entire competitive season.

“Why would we do that again?” asks Duhamel, a tad defensively. “Go to the Olympics to be outside of what I know?”

Radford: “We just weren’t feeling it. You want to feel at the Olympics you’re giving yourself the best chance to have a good skate.”

The “Muse” number left them wanting.

Even before watching Gordeeva, the duo had been looking at their “Hometown Glory” performance on YouTube, reliving it, inhabiting it again. Quietly, almost clandestinely, they began resurrecting snatches of the program in practice, patching it back together. Their coach and choreographer weren’t in China and were left in the dark. This was a piece of withholding especially tricky for Duhamel because their lead coach, Bruno Marcotte, also happens to be her husband.

It was almost like conducting an affair. Until Duhamel banged off an email to her spouse: “Hey, we’re going to go back to ‘Hometown Glory.’ ”

Not may we or should we, because they’re the bosses of their career, after all. It was presented as a fait accompli — Meagan and Eric know best. But Marcotte was onside with the swap.

He responded: “You’ve waited four years to go back to the Olympics. If this is what you feel is right, do it.”

Which left them three weeks to shake the rust off the program before Canadians, push their bodies and their brains into the new agenda, yet confident in the gamble. This was, after all, the program that had brought the pair their highest component marks ever.

“Of course, we want to go to the Olympics and have this beautiful moment,” says Duhamel, of what will be their last Games. “When I listen to this music and I think about the soothing quality of this program, I feel how I want to feel at the Olympics.”

“Hometown Glory” will make it debut redux on Saturday. Friday night, Duhamel and Radford shook out their pleasing short program — “With or Without You” by April Meservy — featuring a triple twist lift, triple Lutz and throw triple Lutz. Arguably no team on the planet can match their throw excellence. Duhamel rarely, rarely falls after being flung for miles by Radford. They easily first with a walloping score of 81.78. Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau were second (68.51), Kristen Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro third (68.28).

A while back, before the Grand Prix final, Duhamel had admitted she was taken aback by how the skating tricks, as second-nature to her as breathing, felt harder this season; more work, less effortless. Perhaps that has been smoothed out by returning to Adele. But there’s so little room between the elite pairs team, in a discipline where hundredths of a point make the difference between medal colour or no medal at all, and the international field is of such superior quality in 2018.

“Twice this season we’ve done clean shorts,” notes Duhamel, pointing to fat scores of 75 and 77.

But yeah, they may have peaked on the wrong end of the Olympic quadrennial.

“We understand that we maximized on an opportunity from 2014 to 2016,” says Duhamel, referring to their golden worlds. “We took full advantage of every opportunity laid out in front of us. That was an amazing time in our career. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have two more amazing competitions at Canadians and at the Olympics.

“We don’t sense any panic.’’

And then, sounding more than a little wistful: “We haven’t give up hope that it’s possible.”

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'Passionate' throwback awakens Duhamel and Radford