He experienced many amazing moments in his career, from sharing Olympic and World podiums with some of the greatest skaters in history, to being honored by his hometown. But his skating achievements are now taking a back seat to a night he described as the most exhilarating and exciting of his life, and an unfolding future that he is looking forward to exploring.
Eric Radford took what was probably the biggest step in his life on July 11, 2019, when he and Luis Fenero, a former Spanish ice dancer, wed in the village of Ligüerre De Cinca, situated on the shores of the idyllic El Grado Lake in Aragon, Spain. The village, which lies two hours northwest of Barcelona and an hour away from Fenero’s hometown of Jaca, is known for its spectacular scenery.
Radford, 34, said he and Fenero, 27, who first met while training in Montréal, could not have imagined a more beautiful setting for their nuptials. “It’s a little village that specifically does weddings and everyone can stay in the village. It’s really cool and ridiculously gorgeous.”
When asked to describe his wedding day, Radford found it difficult to put into words. “I think I’ve had an amazing life and I’ve accomplished some really amazing things. I got to stand on the podium at the Olympics and I’ve had these incredible moments. But my wedding was the best time of my life. It really was just perfect.”
The celebration, which lasted three days and two nights, began with a barbecue the evening the guests arrived, and an impromptu afternoon of kayaking on the lake on the day of the wedding. Though the original plan was to host the wedding dinner inside a glass-enclosed structure, when the couple saw photos from an outdoor wedding that had recently taken place at the venue they changed their minds.
“Most of the planning happened when we got to Spain two weeks before. We had to redo all the seating arrangements and stuff,” Radford explained. “I kind of joke that if you’re going to get married, get married to someone from a different country, and then have the wedding in that country. I don’t really speak the language, so Luis had to do all the talking. It was pretty stressful, but it all came together beautifully.”
The ceremony itself featured live music from a piano trio (cello, violin and piano) that played selections by Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds, Radford’s favorite composer. A musician himself, Radford — who once composed a piece of music that Patrick Chan used for a long program — had thoughts of writing something for his own wedding, “but I just ran out of time.”
“It was gorgeous and I think everybody cried,” he said of the emotional ceremony that affected everyone in attendance. “I just cried so much, but all happy tears. Just happy, beautiful tears.”
Radford was accompanied by his brother, Richard, and his two best friends, Dylan Moscovitch and Chan. Fenero’s sister Marta, his best friend Julia, Adrià Díaz, Dani Delfa and Tom Consul were at his side for the formal proceedings.
The couple invited a large number of their peers to celebrate the special day, including Joannie Rochette, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Madison Hubbell and Radford’s pairs partner, Meagan Duhamel.
“There was a big skating contingent,” said Radford. “When I first arrived there, I was talking with my family and they were saying, ‘I don’t want to dance with all these professional skaters around — they’ll make me look bad.’ But everyone had a wonderful time.”
Instead of going on a honeymoon, Radford and Fenero chose to take what they called a “buddymoon,” spending six days in Greece with Chan and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Putnam, and former Canadian skater Joey Russell and his boyfriend, Steven Lejambe. “We’re planning our honeymoon probably in a couple of years. We want to go to the Maldives,” Radford explained.
The wedding alone would have made for an eventful summer in itself, but that was just the beginning of a new and exciting journey for Radford.
Last spring, he was invited to join the cast of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s reality show, “Battle of the Blades,” which pairs figure skaters with hockey players. It was an offer that took no time for him to accept. “I’d already said ‘yes’ before they asked me. They were like, ‘would you be interested,’ and I said, ‘I’ll do it, just give me a contract,’” he recalled with a laugh.
“There were rumors it would be coming back and I think people in the skating world and the producers of the show knew that I was retired, and I think the opportunity came up because of that.”
Radford, who had seen previous episodes of the show, had attended the finale of Season 2, which was won by Ekaterina Gordeeva and her partner Valeri Bure. “I was literally blown away by the quality of what I saw on the ice. That was at the end of seven weeks, and they were skating with the type of attention to detail that an actual pairs team would have. Ekaterina did an amazing throw triple flip. It was really impressive.”
Rehearsals for the series began at the end of August and Radford warmed up quickly to the vibe of the show’s reincarnation. He spoke with enthusiasm about his partnership with Amanda Kessel, a member of the United States gold-medal hockey team in PyeongChang. Though both had competed in their respective sports in South Korea and at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, they had never previously met. However, they had shared a moment at those Games, though neither realized it until they were teamed up for the show.
“In Sochi, right after the women’s gold medal hockey game … Canada was behind the whole game, then tied it, the game went into overtime and Canada won,” Radford recalled. “Afterwards, I was in the cafeteria in the Athletes Village and the whole U.S. women’s team walked in. They were so defeated — just crestfallen. They all went to get McDonalds, but it had just closed. Ashley Wagner was there. She had one order of French fries, which she just put on the table for them. They literally each had like one French fry.
“I asked Amanda if she was there and she said she was. I told her that I was also there and what I saw, and that ‘I felt so bad for you guys.’ It’s funny, all that time ago when we didn’t even know each other, but there we were in this horrible moment for her.”
“Battle of the Blades,” however, provided a venue for the two to share some much happier moments. For Radford, who has just started his coaching career under the direction of his former coach Richard Gauthier, the show provided a unique challenge. It was one he dove into with abandon.
“I’m learning about my coaching style and figuring things out, so it came in handy. I was in a teaching position with my actual partner,” he explained. “It was going back to basics and just working on things like the knee bend, the gathering and reset before you push … things you don’t really have time to do when you’re training a long program.
“Because Amanda has a hockey background, there were times where we were trying to get her to do something, but what we needed to do was to say a different word. For example, we’d be telling her to ‘reach your foot’ and she would say ‘in hockey, we say grab the ice.’ So as soon as we said the word ‘grab,’ she would start doing what we wanted her to do. It was just different terminology and different words. It was kind of like a little puzzle. I really enjoyed it.”
Radford was very disappointed when the duo was eliminated in week 2 of the series, but happy to have had the experience. “Honestly, I loved it. I had the time of my life,” he said. “The crew and cast were amazing. There is such a great energy around the show, like every part of it. My partner was amazing — we got along great and we were on this crazy, amazing adventure. We just tried to enjoy it as much as possible.”
For Radford, the series also presented an opportunity to get back in front of an audience. In the months following the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, he and Duhamel toured with Stars On Ice and performed on the Thank You Canada tour. But when Duhamel fell pregnant earlier this year, their show career was put on hold.
He said there is a possibility that he and Duhamel might return to that circuit, but “at this very moment, I don’t know. I think we’re both hoping to continue. It’ll just depend on how Meagan’s health is, how the baby’s health is. If everything is going smoothly, I’m sure you’ll see us back on show ice.”
At the rink in St-Leonard, Québec, where Radford now coaches — and where he and Duhamel were based for many years — his pairs teams were waiting for him and were clearly anxious for his return. “I’m working with a lot of the teams I used to train with. I kind of find that aspect a little funny — now I’m the coach,” Radford said. “But it is invigorating and I’ve really liked it so far. They kind of joked when I left for the show, ‘we’ll be cheering for you, but we’ll be happy if you get kicked off early so you can come back earlier.’”
Radford’s involvement and contribution to the future of the sport does not end there. During the World Championships in Japan last March, he was elected to the International Skating Union’s Athletes Commission, a group that includes both figure and speed skaters. In addition to being its pairs and singles skating representative, he also serves as the four- member committee’s vice chair. His term runs through 2023.
“I have a lot of experience as an athlete and I like to think I have a pretty good perspective when it comes to this sport,” Radford said in reference to his motivation for becoming a member of the commission. “It is an opportunity to give back and a lot of it was the timing. I’m retired, the position was up for grabs, and it just fit. It’s giving a voice to the athletes. I can communicate with the athletes and if they have needs or concerns or ideas, then I can take those ideas and we can talk about them as a group. We also work on proposals and focus a lot on sustainability and development.”
In the later years of their career, Duhamel and Radford were at the forefront of pushing their discipline technically, adding elements such as throw quads and throw triple Axels into their programs. At the 2017 Canadian Championships they spoke passionately about a scoring system that seemed to discourage pushing limits, and it is something that Radford said is still the case.
“They lowered the value of the throw quad. It’s incredibly difficult and now I doubt you’ll see one again because there’s really no reason to try one,” he explained. “It will depend on what direction they want the sport to go. It’s about finding the balance … That will always be a challenge, and maybe it will get to that point again in pairs where they want to see more difficult elements executed.”
Radford admits there is no part of him that misses that side of skating, and that PyeongChang was the right time and place to end it all. He and Duhamel went out with the Olympic medal they so dearly wanted — it was a dream finish in their eyes. “I had a moment right after we got off the warm up for that last long program,” Radford said. “I did a little check in and I looked around and I wondered, ‘am I going to miss this feeling?’ And it was a resounding ‘no.’ I feel so fortunate that it happened that way for us because I know it doesn’t always happen that way for athletes.”
When asked how he imagined his life would have played out had his partnership with Duhamel not worked, he said he has no idea. But he does remember how close he was to calling an end to his skating career after not making the Canadian team for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. “I have a very clear memory of that time … it was just before Meagan and I tried out for the very first time,” Radford recalled.
“My season was done after nationals that year, and I wasn’t going to the Olympics in Vancouver, which was a big dream of mine. I was just thinking, hey, maybe that’s it. I had started looking at university courses … I was in this phase and direction of moving on from skating. So, to look back at that moment and then look at how everything turned out, is just kind of funny.”
It is because of the success they achieved during their career that whenever Radford heads back to his small hometown of Balmertown, in northwestern Ontario, he can drive down a street named Eric Radford Way and do so with the biggest smile. “I love it. I get pictures (of the sign) sent to me every now and then,” he said of the street, which was named in his honor in 2018. “It’s so cool. The town, throughout my entire career, was there for me, supporting me on all levels. I feel very grateful and thankful for all of that.”
Radford is also hopeful that he will get to marry skating with one of his other passions — music — in future years. While in Toronto for “Battle of the Blades,” Radford enrolled in a music production course, with the idea of giving himself “more tools to be able to express what I want to musically.”
And if that happens to be a composition that accompanies a skater on the ice, then so be it. “I’d love to do that. I recently did a soundtrack for Randy Gardner’s documentary (“Go Figure: The Randy Gardner Story”),” Radford said. “That was my first and I loved the process. It was very challenging and it was stressful. Sitting there, watching the footage and trying to find an emotion and compose a melody … it was something I had always dreamed of doing and, having gone through the process now, I’ve been bitten by the bug and look forward to doing more.”