Sports

Canadian skating pair Duhamel, Radford fuelled by naysayers

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

Canadian pairs skaters Meagan Duhame and Eric Radford believe they can win a world title this year. (IAN MCALPINE/QMI AGENCY)

Canadian pairs skaters Meagan Duhame and Eric Radford believe they can win a world title this year. (IAN MCALPINE/QMI AGENCY)

KINGSTON - 

You would think a sport that features a kiss and cry area and little kids on skates scooping up flowers after each performance would have the kindest, most gentle fans in the world.

But that’s not the way it is. Figure skating fans can be just as angry and catty and vicious as other sports fans.

Just ask Canadian pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

Duhamel and Radford are three-time Canadian pairs champions and two-time world championship bronze medallists — and recently captured their first Grand Prix Final title. Yet for all of their success, the pair revealed on Thursday at the Rogers K-Rock Centre — site of this week’s national figure skating championships — that there are plenty of skating fans out there who not only cheer against them, they actually despise them, and go out of their way to demean their skating and to attack them on a personal level. All courtesy of the wonderful world of social media.

While neither skater is totally sure why they’ve become such targets, Duhamel believes that it stems from the fact that they’re not a typical pairs matchup physically — she’s tiny (4-foot-11) and he’s 6-2, and there’s also no romantic element (or the possibility of that) to their pairing, which skating fans love to latch on to. (Radford came out as a gay athlete late last year).

“Sometimes now we read mean comments online: ‘They don’t match. Why would they skate together? They don’t look good together. She needs a new partner. He needs a new partner.’ Really mean, hurtful things that we can’t change,” said Duhamel, 29. “I can’t make myself any taller and more balletic looking, it’s not my body and I don’t want to. And Eric can’t make himself smaller with more bulky muscles.

“I try,” quipped Radford, with a laugh.

“People are really mean with comments, and that’s hurtful,” Duhamel said.

Duhamel added that even with their fantastic performance at the Grand Prix Final last month in Barcelona, and the fact that they’ve put themselves in a position to possibility win the world title in March, the negativity has continued unabated.

“Actually, we were talking the other day, somebody wrote online that (former Chinese world champions) Pang (Qing) and Tong (Jian) are coming back for worlds (March 23-29 in Shanghai). And somebody wrote, ‘Oh thank God, anything to stop Duhamel and Radford from being world champions.’ Why not? What’s wrong with us being world champions?” said Duhamel. “We’ve improved every single year for the past five years, we’ve built our way up. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’ve set our sights on this and we’ve grown as skaters and as people. Why not us?”

The Montreal-based pairs team have been together since the 2010-11 season and have progressed to the point where they’re one of the very best teams in the world, performing technical elements that no other pairs teams in the world can pull off.

“People who don’t like us, you can hate us as much as you want but what we do is undeniable and we’re going to keep on doing it,” said Radford.

The programs performed by Duhamel and Radford are often not the typical classical style so common in pairs skaters and perhaps that’s why some fans turned against them. This season, they’ve been performing their short program to a number by Quebec singer Ginette Reno and their freeskate to a medley by the English rock band Muse. Duhamel acknowledged that many skaters receive negative feedback, but they believe they receive more than most.

“There was another comment, when (Canadian pairs) Dylan (Moscovitch) and Kirsten (Moore-Towers) broke up (last year), somebody said, ‘I just wish it was Meagan and Eric that broke up,’” she said. “Why?”

“Sometimes you can’t help but see it,” added Radford, 29. “I’ll be reading an article and then you go down to the comments section and you scroll down and ... it’s like the person took the time to make an account, formulate their ideas and these negative feelings towards us and put the energy into writing something just mean, for no reason. I mean, I could flip it in my head and almost take it as a compliment, that they want to put that much energy into us. If you really don’t like something in your life, usually I think most people walk away and ignore it. If it’s not for you, why spend time on it? But they’re putting energy into trying to hate us so much and that will just fuel us to want to do better.

“I think that we know all we can do is go out and skate our best and the ones who are deciding our fate are the judges, they’ve been trained to do what they do, they’ve been watching skating for years and years and years, and they’re the ones with power,” Radford added. “(But in) another person’s opinion, when we do finally win, they’ll be like, ‘the Canadian judge gave them really high marks.’

“And then we’re like, ‘We didn’t even have a Canadian judge on the panel,’” added Duhamel.

The music to their short program is called Un peu plus haut, which translates to ‘A little higher.’ But for Duhamel and Radford, perhaps it also means, ‘Give it a rest.’

AT HOME AWAY FROM HOME

The city of Kingston, Ont., certainly holds a special place in Lubov Iliushechkina’s heart.

And no, it’s not because she’s a big fan of prisons.

Iliushechkina’s first taste of Canada as a Russian figure skater came at the 2010 Skate Canada International at the K-Rock Centre when she won the event with her former partner, Nodari Maisuradze. Finishing second was the Canadian team of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch.

Five years later, Iliushechkina is back in Kingston, this time competing with Moscovitch — their first Canadian championships as a team.

“Kingston’s my lucky city,” said Iliushechkina. “This was my first introduction to Canada and I loved Canada from my first visit, and it was in Kingston and it was in this rink. When I came to Kingston, I felt so comfortable. I wanted to be among these people. I wanted to be one of these people. And now I am. I even said after the exhibition (at Skate Canada), I said, ‘I want to come here back.’ So now five years after I’m here again. And I’m Canadian now. Well, I’m almost Canadian. But I skate for Canada, it’s my dream.”

The story of how Iliushechkina and Moscovitch, a Toronto native, got together is stuff of legends. Moscovitch broke up with his long time partner, Moore-Towers (they won a silver in the team event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics) last year and began looking for another partner. In May, he contacted Iliushechkina on Facebook and asked if she’d like to try out with him.

They met in Detroit and the rest is history. There were unable to compete in the Grand Prix circuit this season, but they won the Skate Canada Challenge and the Warsaw Cup and are aiming to make the Four Continents and world championship team this year competing for Canada.

After breaking with Moore-Towers, Moscovitch said he was “terrified” that his career might be over and told his coach Bryce Davison as much.

“I said I’m going to be 30. And I don’t want to do this just to do this. I want to do this if it’s worth doing, and he said, ‘You guys definitely look like there’s something special there.’ And I trusted his opinion,” said Moscovitch. “Lubov and I were both excited. so we went for it.”

Iliushechkina said (with a laugh) that Moscovitch originally told her the tryout was for a friend of his, because he didn’t want anyone in the skating world to know that he was auditioning new partners. The two of them hit if off right away and actually cancelled their respective flights home from Detroit.

“And I cancelled my other tryouts and we trained there for six weeks, without a coach, until her Canadian Visa arrived,” said Moscovitch. “And then we drove across the border to Toronto and we’ve been training ever since.”

Iliushechkina said competing for Canada is a dream come true and they’re now aiming for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, though Iliushechkina will be required to have her Canadian citizen to compete at an Olympics.

“I love it,” she said. “I was so happy when I got my first Canadian jacket.”


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