Coming off an Olympic season that was emotionally and physically exhausting, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford added the quadruple throw Salchow to their long program, a rarely executed manoeuvre that has rejuvenated Canada's top pairs team and created a buzz in figure skating circles.
"It's nice to feel like we're improving still, because there's always a point in competitive athletes where you stop improving, and if we were to stop improving it would be really hard to push ourselves," said Duhamel.
"A big part of that was adding a throw quad to our repertoire," Radford added. "We get to push the sport, it's exciting to have a team trying something new and difficult like that, and it's another goal for us to keep on working and getting out there."
The two-time world bronze medallists were seventh at the Sochi Olympics. Rather than taking a breather this season, they've amped up their program by adding the quad throw. The element is as advertised: similar to a quad jump in singles, except Radford tosses Duhamel into it.
The two successfully executed the quad throw at the Autumn Classic last week in Barrie, Ont., and five-time world pairs champion Robin Szolkowy of Germany, who was there coaching a Russia team, approached them to say thanks afterward.
"I think it was just thank you for a such a great performance and for getting that throw quad," Radford said.
Duhamel and Radford — the only pairs team in the world this year to do side-by-side triple Lutzes — will be virtually unmatched with their quad throw. There's a Russian team, said Duhamel, that has been attempting the quad for years, and land it from time to time. There was also a Chinese duo that used to it but stopped, she said.
It took about five weeks over the summer to perfect the element.
Duhamel, a 28-year-old from Lively, Ont., had read a study online that said it takes eight weeks to create a new habit. So she set a goal of six weeks "because I figured I could be better than the average person," she said with a laugh.
She and Radford, a 29-year-old from Balmertown, Ont., beat the goal by a few days.
"When we hit that first one, it was like, 'Oh, that's what it feels like,' and since then we've been able to repeat that feeling, fairly consistently," Duhamel said.
Accomplishing the feat breathed new energy into their training after an Olympic season that had both skaters overwhelmed by pressure.
"It started to take over my life," Radford said. "When I was at home, every night before I went to bed, I was picturing skating. This season is totally different, I don't even feel concerned about skating unless I'm at the rink or at a competition, and it's just so nice to have that freedom to just go out there and enjoy skating and enjoy improving and working hard ... it was a very, very difficult last season."
The two look forward to arriving at the rink to work on the quad.
"Every time we come in (to the rink), there's, 'Oh, are we going to land it today?' We never know, it's technically difficult, it takes a lot of precision to do and every time we do one, we feel complete," Radford said.
"When I land my quad, I say, 'Now I feel like I can go home feeling very accomplished with my day,'" Duhamel said.
Duhamel and Radford said their social media pages were abuzz when they landed the throw quad last week. There were congratulatory notes and some fans that were at the event posted video of the throw.
"Everybody's reactions have been really nice," Duhamel said. "But every day at the rink when we do it, everybody gets really excited as well. So there's a lot of excitement around that element on a day-to-day basis."
"I'm genuinely surprised at how big a deal it has become," Radford added. "It's just one element in our program, and it's almost fun for us to go out there and do it. I feel like it's caused this ripple in the skating world, and when we first posted the video when we were first landing them on our Facebook, we got a huge response from it and it was very, very exciting."
Duhamel and Radford will be the favourites in the pairs field at Skate Canada International. The Oct. 30-Nov. 2 event will also see Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., compete with new partner Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont.
Moore-Towers was fifth at the Sochi Olympics with former partner Dylan Moscovitch. Moscovitch will compete this season with Lubov Iliushechkina, who was released last week by the Russian skating federation to compete for Canada.