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Canadian pairs skaters Duhamel and Radford silencing their critics

01/23/2015 12:37 EST | Updated 03/25/2015 05:59 EDT
KINGSTON, Ont. - The hurtful words used to slice deep, but Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are learning to laugh them off and let their skating answer for them.

And the fact they're winning says plenty.

Canada's top figure skating pair has had its share of critics since teaming up four years ago. There's too big a size difference — she's four foot 11, he's 6-2. Their styles are too different — she skates with the power and force of an athlete, he carries himself with the grace and artistry of a dancer.

"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," Duhamel said.

"There was one comment when Dylan (Moscovitch) and Kirsten (Moore-Towers) broke up (last summer), it was 'Ah, I just wish it was Meagan and Eric that broke up.'"

Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Balmertown, Ont., are writing their own success story with a season that has thus far seen them win both their Grand Prix events and then the Grand Prix Final in December in Barcelona, firmly entrenching the Canadians as the team to beat at the world championships in March.

They're in the hunt for their fourth consecutive national title at the Canadian championships this week.

They possess one element — side-by-side triple Lutzes — that no other team in the world has. And their quad throw Salchow, added this season, is only attempted in competition by one other team.

"We're doing a program so dynamic that if you gave it to one of the top Russian teams, they wouldn't be able to do it," Radford said. "There's an undeniable fact that we are doing elements and programs that nobody in the world can do except for us.

"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."

Critics aren't uncommon in a sport that enjoys a large and vocal fan base. Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, darlings of the Vancouver Games, were the subject of a spiteful blog dedicated to everything anti-Virtue and Moir.

Radford said a Russian coach fired shots at the Canadian pair in a recent interview, asking "Why did the coach put somebody tall, with somebody short like Meagan?"

"In Canada you already have very few pair boys and very few pair girls, it's not just like we get to choose them off a construction line or something," Radford said. "Whereas in Russia, everybody's trained in the same style. . . it's a totally different mindset. It just goes to show what Meagan and I have accomplished is even rarer maybe than what some of the Russians have."

Partnering in figure skating is a tricky business at the best of times. Houston native Kaitlyn Weaver became a Canadian citizen in order to compete with Andrew Poje. The ice dancers are also enjoying a wildly successful season, with two Grand Prix victories and gold from the Grand Prix Final.

Weaver drove to Waterloo, Ont., in 2006 for a tryout with Poje, and wound up staying. They were a perfect fit, something as rare and lucky, she said, as finding one's "soul mate."

"I remember the tryout, and I remember thinking to myself, 'Okay, this is the real deal. This could be something really good.' I feel like I was so young, I was 17. . . but I just remembered thinking, 'This could be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for.'

"Why are you laughing?" Weaver said, turning to Poje.

"My first thought was, 'Wow, this girl's quiet,'" Poje said. "Because our first day of the tryout, she didn't speak a word. . .(But) from the very beginning we knew there was something unique and something that we knew would take us far."

When did Weaver start talking?

"The second day," she said, laughing. "Andrew's coach, who turned into our coach, Rebecca Babb, she pulled me aside the second day and said, 'Kaitlyn, it's OK to smile.' I was so nervous. I wanted to be so perfect, to prove that I was the right partner.

"Oh, yeah (I was intimidated). I mean, he's six foot three, he was gorgeous, he was great. And he was way more qualified than I was at that point."

There were some early awkward moments for Duhamel and Radford as well.

Coach Bruno Marcotte instructed their choreographer to try to minimize the obvious size difference.

"He told our choreographer 'Don't have them stand next to one another,' I had to be down on one knee, or doing a spread eagle that's shortening me, and she's standing up as tall as possible," Radford said.

"Or all our costumes. . .," Duhamel added "You can only make my body look so long. People are always trying to make my body look as long as possible. And Eric as least long as possible, even still now."

This week's championships decides the team that will represent Canada at the world championships in Shanghai.

Canada can send three teams in both pairs and ice dance, and two skaters each in men's and women's singles.

While Duhamel and Radford and Weaver and Poje are the class of their respective fields, Skate Canada high performance director Mike Slipchuk expects a dog fight for the remaining spots.

After Moore-Towers, from St. Catharines, Ont., and Toronto's Moscovitch split a few months ago, he teamed up with Russian Lubov Ilyushechkina, while she joined forces with Michael Marinaro of Waterloo, Ont.

Ilyushechkina is eligible to compete for Canada at the world championships, but needs Canadian citizenship to compete at the Olympics.

"It's an interesting mix," Slipchuck said of the pairs field. "And then I would really say that the surprise here is (Julianne) Seguin and (Charlie) Bilodeau."

Seguin, from Longueuil, Que., and Bilodeau, from Notre-Dame-du-Portage, Que., won both their junior Grand Prix events plus the junior Grand Prix Final this season.

"They're coming in here with the second highest international score of all our teams, with junior elements," Slipchuck said. "They're sometimes a bit forgotten because they weren't on the senior circuit but they've really developed into a strong team."

Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., and Toronto teen Nam Nguyen, last year's world junior champion, should battle for the men's title in the absence of Patrick Chan, who's also taking the season off.

Without injured Kaetlyn Osmond, the women's field is wide open, and the weakest of the four events at the Rogers K-Rock Centre this week.

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