11/01/2012 23:32 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 18:58 EST

Canadian skating couples can't take anything for granted

Eric Radford doesn’t mince words about how competitive things are in this country when it comes to couples figure skating.

He and partner Meagan Duhamel are the defending national champions in pairs and currently ranked fifth in the world, but that has not in any way left them feeling as though they can rest on their local laurels and look ahead only to the 2013 global championship in London, Ont., or indeed the Olympics at Sochi in 2014.

There are too many hungry competitors below them.

“For some other teams, their national championship is like a baby competition and that’s even if they wind up competing at them,” said Radford, in a recent phone presser. “There are a lot of teams in the world who don’t even have to go [to nationals].”

Not here.

“For us, [Nationals] is one of our main competitions of the season, and that only pushes us to be better.”

Take the top four finishers in Canada last season — Duhamel and Radford; Jessica Dube and Sebastien Wolfe; Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers; Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch — and plug in their personal bests to the world rankings and you find that if everyone is on their game Canada would have all four in the top 12.

'We can't relax'

Other countries do not send all of their best to the global event, of course (usually two per), but it does show the depth of Canadian talent.

“We can’t relax and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to worlds,’ or, ‘we’re going to Four Continents’ — we have to earn our spot there, so it pushes us that much more, and we take it very seriously.”

Take Moore-Towers and Moscovitch, for example.

After winning the nationals in 2011, the pair had a weekend from hell back in January and slipped all the way to fourth. They’re back confident and ready to go for a season debut at the Cup of China on the first weekend of November.

They won a Senior B warm-up event this fall and seem on their game as well.

Jessica Dube and Sebastien Wolfe, second at nationals and 12th at worlds, plus Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers (who make their season debut at Moscow in two weeks) are also in the conversation.

Things are more tightly bunched in dance, where the sublime Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir battle with Meryl Davis and Charlie White for dominance, and a gaggle of teams vie for the final step on the podium.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, of France, took it in 173.18, but Canadian Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were seven back in fourth.

They aren’t giving anything away, either, revamping their long routine to add even more emotion than was offered by the soul-wrenching performance they had last season.

“You can’t stick with what you’ve been doing, you need to push the boundary,” said Poje, a few weeks back. “When you get up to the top, it becomes harder and harder to go up to the next slot.”

So, you toss in more difficult stuff, and learn to do it.

Tough start

The new program got off to a tough start at Skate America, where the Canadians slipped to third behind Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, a team that was three spots behind them at the worlds.

They were not amused.

“It wasn’t the greatest performance for us,” Poje said, to The Associated Press. “We didn’t achieve some of our levels and having all that add up to losing a position, it’s something we are not accustomed to, and we don’t like the feeling.”

Cup of China can give them a chance to work out the kinks.

There are three other teams behind the top two Canadian duos whose personal bests in dance would all put them in the top 12 on the world level — Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill, and Alex Paul and Mitch Islam.

If anyone falters, there’s going to be somebody willing to sail right past.