Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford’s decision to drop the throw triple Axel from their short program and replace it with an easier, more secure throw triple Lutz, was based on the point value versus the risk.
The Canadian pairs team have become advocates for change to the current scoring system, so that future generations will be inspired to continue to push the sport technically and be rewarded for doing so.
You talk about pushing the sport forward, so what is the reason for you making the element change?
Duhamel: Singles skating went through a time when all the men were doing quads, but a triple flip-triple toe combination was worth more points. So, the men took the quads out of their short and did a triple flip-triple toe. Then the scoring system changed and it became more beneficial to do quads.
These elements are really hard and they are not being rewarded for the difficulty. The throw triple Lutz we landed at nationals got 6.9. The throw triple Axel we landed at Skate Canada got 7.2. I can tell you landing that throw triple Axel was more than 0.3 harder than landing that throw triple Lutz. It’s frustrating — I don’t see that things are going to change in our careers, but we’re going to keep fighting so that things can be changed for the future generations, and for them to feel it’s worth it to step out of the box, to try different things and be creative.
You talk about the men and how the quads weren’t being rewarded. Some of that came from people like Elvis Stojko who said it was crazy to do quads if there is not enough reward for the risk. Is someone voicing these opinions for the pairs?
Radford: At competitions, we talk to the technical specialists and some of the ISU representatives, and it’s always the same thing: “We agree that it should be worth more.” But there are others amongst the very top level — people who really make the decisions at the ISU — who seem to stunt change. All we’ve heard up until now is that “Oh, it has to be after the Olympics. We can’t change it before.”
Duhamel: Sometimes we have heard the excuse that the higher powers don’t want the values to go up because they think it’s too dangerous. Doing a triple twist is dangerous. Don’t you think that people were saying when Petra Burka landed a triple Salchow, “Oh, that’s dangerous? A girl shouldn’t do a triple Salchow.” Everything has its risk. But we’ve been doing a quad throw for three years and we were doing a throw triple Axel. I’m fine. So how can it be an excuse that it’s a risk factor? Everything is a risk factor. I can fall on a single Axel. That’s a risk factor.
Is this something that you think the new Athletes’ Commission can address?
Radford: Yes, definitely. When I think about figure skating I think about what the essence of what sport is. It’s when physically that other people can’t do. If you can run faster than somebody else in the 100-metre dash, you win. That is what keeps figure skating in the sport category rather than an art.
I feel like there are specific people in the skating world and in the ISU that are afraid of a runaway effect — of a skater coming along that can do so much technically that they’re going to beat the most artistic skater. But if you eliminate that aspect of it and you say, “Oh no, the artistry has to be the most important,” then I would be the first person to say take figure skating out of the Olympics — it doesn’t belong there because it’s not a real sport if you take that away.
Should what is happening with the men be the incentive for change?
Duhamel: Absolutely. When a man does a quad Salchow, he gets 12 points. If Eric and I land a throw quad, we get eight. Why is our quad worth less?
Radford: The way the throws versus the jumps are weighted is flip-flopped. A throw double Axel is worth four points and a double Axel on its own is worth three and a half. That says that a throw double Axel is more difficult than a double Axel on its own. A throw triple Axel is worth 7.7 but a triple Axel jump is worth 8.5. So it is flipped. All of a sudden, doing a triple Axel jump is harder than a throw, but the throw double is apparently harder than a double Axel. It makes no sense.
How many teams are doing the throw triple Axel?
Duhamel: The Germans (Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot) were doing it, but I’m not sure if they still are. We’ve talked to them many times about it, and they are on the same page as Eric and I. Aliona and Bruno want to fight for this and be a voice for this as well.
How many hours did you put into learning that element?
Duhamel: We had to start with the basics of how to hold hands on a throw Axel and then we built it in stages. We might revisit it for the Olympic year. We’re going to see if it’s worth it point-wise, and see what everyone else is planning. If, all of a sudden, other teams are landing perfect, clean throw triple Axels, then we’ll consider it.
But right now we have a Level 4 triple twist and a throw triple Lutz in the short program so we have enough. This year we needed to go out and skate clean with what we have.
When you started doing throw quads, did other pairs think they needed to do that as well?
Duhamel: It’s funny because when we added the throw quad Salchow we started winning all of a sudden. So I think a lot of people were saying, “Oh, they’re winning because they’re doing a throw quad,” which often was not the case. We could have won our first World title by just doing a triple. I think a lot of people did think they needed something like that, and that’s why last year Eric and I were thinking that everyone is going to have a throw quad.
We assumed that because we learned it fairly easily — in one month — then everybody’s going to be able to do it, and everybody’s going to go out in competition and land these throw quad Salchows, so we will need more now. We were incorrect. Nobody else came out with a throw quad that hadn’t had one before.
We are also seeing a few more teams upping their side-by-side jumps as well. There are a few teams in Europe doing the triple Lutz and triple loop. We’re seeing triple combinations. People are trying the jumps they can do to get more points, rather than just doing a triple toe-double toe or a double Axel. That’s really cool to see teams doing stuff like that. You have to find what you can do to push the sport.
Eric and I cannot do a quad twist. We had to find another way. We saw the Chinese teams doing quad twists, but knew that wasn’t where we could get points.
How do you know you are absolutely not capable of doing a quad twist?
Duhamel: Because I’m scared. I would never do it because I would be so terrified that I might hit him on the way down. A twist is an unnatural element for us, not like jumps and the throw are.
Radford: In singles all skaters have a preferable jump. It’s the same in pairs. Our triple twist was the last big element that we added to our repertoire. There are elements that are stronger for other teams. A quad twist was never in the cards for us.