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Rachel Kirkland and Eric Radford Aiming for a Podium Finish in Saskatoon

Rising pairs stars Rachel Kirkland and Eric Radford are heading to Saskatoon on Tuesday with one immediate goal in mind – to win a medal at the 2009 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

Both know two solid performances in Saskatoon could be the ticket to reaching their higher goals – a trip to the ISU Four Continents Championships in early February and a berth on the 2009 World team.

“We are really excited to be going to nationals and we feel really ready,” 16-year-old Kirkland said. “We have trained really hard and it is an opportunity and we are going to grab it.”

Radford, 23, concurred. “I think we have improved a lot. We are really looking forward to going out there and just showing everyone what we have accomplished this year.”

Originally paired by the late Paul Wirtz in September 2005 the young team has the unusual benefit of having two gifted coaches. They split their training time between Brian Orser in Toronto and Ingo Steuer in Chemnitz, Germany.

“Paul saw me training and asked if I would like to train with him and later he thought Eric and I would be a good team,” Kirkland said.

Radford met Wirtz when both were living in Montreal. “I was skating singles and one day I asked Paul if I could join his group and I made the switch to pairs.” When Wirtz relocated to Toronto Radford came with him.

The team’s association with Steuer, the 1997 World pairs champion with partner Mandy Wötzel, came about shortly after Kirkland and Radford became a pair.

Kirkland said the team’s relationship with Steuer has blossomed over the years. “Working with Ingo has worked really well for us,” she said. “Having the opportunity to train with Aliona (Savchenko) and Robin (Szolkowy) and the other teams Ingo coaches is really great.”

“Our relationship with Ingo slowly developed into us spending more time with him and him taking us under his wing,” Radford explained. “It all seemed to fall into place on its own.”

The duo estimates they have spent 10 weeks training in Germany this season and for the second year in a row competed in the international pairs event at German nationals in December. “Ingo has a Ukranian team and a Swiss team training with him and we all competed at the event,” Radford said.

The Canadians placed a close second behind Ukraine’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov. Volosozhar and Morozov placed fourth at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Korea last December.

Heading into nationals both agreed they feel better prepared than ever before. “When I think about it now as compared to years past I feel more excited than I do anxious or nervous,” Radford said.

“We have competed at a higher level this year. We have been up against really good teams and we have learned how to just go out there and skate for ourselves. It has been working all season so we are just going to go out there and do the same thing.”

Kirkland was born and raised in Toronto and began skating at age 6. “My mom put me into a bunch of things. I did ballet and then I started taking private skating lessons and that was how I stepped into competitive skating.”

Radford, 23, grew up in small town Ontario. Balmertown is the furthest point north that can be traveled by road in the province.

He said he was inspired to skate by watching the 1992 Games in Albertville. “I was 8-years-old. I remember watching the Games on TV and Nancy Kerrigan was skating. I just remember her skating to the music and I tried to emulate the moves that she did. I was obsessed with jumping and I told my parents ‘I want to learn how to skate, I want to be able to do that.’”

Kirkland is currently completing her high school education. She is looking forward to attending university when she graduates. She said one of her favorite things is to write poetry.

Radford is a gifted pianist and composer who is currently studying for his Grade 10 piano certificate at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. His long-term plan is to compete his studies at York University and obtain a degree in music.

The 2010 Olympic Winter Games is a huge motivating factor for this team. Kirkland said she has been inspired by the Canadian television ads she has seen recently.

“Having the Olympics in our home country next year and we have a shot to make it,” Radford added. “All we can do is work as hard as possible to achieve that goal. Hopefully we will be there.”