Duhamel & Radford Confirm Retirement
After winning gold in team event and bronze in the individual event, Canadians confirm that they’re done with competition.
For fans of some skaters, the Olympics will be both one of the happiest and one of the saddest times for them. If they’re lucky, they’ll get to see their skater win, or at least medal. But it’s very common for those skaters to then immediately retire from competition, either due to the success or, more often, because they were already planning to.
This wasn’t always the case. In earlier years, skaters would often do the World Championships as their last competition instead. But 1994 saw a lot of skaters clear out after Lillehammer, and the most of the Olympics since have seen the same. 1998 even lost all four Olympic champions before Worlds, and the 2006 Worlds didn’t include any of them either (although one later came back).
There was definitely a question mark lingering around Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot from the moment they won the gold on Thursday. They’d spoke of staying around longer, but they’d really only ever been after one thing, which they’d just gotten. Nonetheless, at the press conference after the competition, they said they’ll at least do this year’s Worlds. Silver medalists Wenjing Sui & Cong Han aren’t expected to retire, and indeed they’re also World-bound. But bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford had already indicated they wouldn’t be continuing past PyeongChang, and at the press conference, they confirmed they are now retired.
The team gold and individual bronze is a wonderful note for them to go out on. They capped off well a successful career that included two World titles, the technical boundaries of pairs skating pushed, and the first coming out of a skater who had everything to lose.
Two Skaters Form an Unusual Team
Meagan Duhamel was the first of the two skaters to have success, getting a pair of top ten finishes at the World Championships with partner Craig Buntin, before heartbreakingly just missing the 2010 Olympics, which had been the purpose of their partnership. When he retired, she considered doing the same. Also considering retirement was Eric Radford, who had spent years struggling with partners who weren’t his equal. Despite the lack of results, he was becoming known as a very artistic skater.
That would make him and Duhamel seem an odd match. She was an athletic skater rather than an artistic one. But in the summer of 2010, the two of them decided to make a go of it. Canada changed its guard in pairs following that Olympics, and they quickly rose, claiming silver, and getting attention at Worlds when he skated most of their short program with a broken nose!
But Radford had been taking his knocks since he was young. It was something he would talk about frequently, the bullying he endured being a figure skating boy in a small town in Ontario. And that was before he came out late in 2014, when the team were at the height of their career. He was the second skater to come out during his career proper, and the first one, Rudy Galindo, had at the time been left with nothing to lose. Radford risked far more doing it, though thankfully the pair never seemed to suffer much for it.
Duhamel, too, has endured all the criticisms that get inflicted upon a not overly feminine skating lady outspoken on everything from her veganism to her considerable ambition. She’s never been afraid to sass her critics either. Although perhaps it says something about her true nature that when Aliona Savchenko won the gold herself had also spent the last four years openly and relentlessly aiming for, she seemed as happy for Savchenko as the skater did herself. Of course, it probably helped that medaling for her & Radford had been a huge triumph.
From early on, Duhamel & Radford established themselves as the team with the difficult jumps. For most pairs, side by side triple salchows remain the hardest of jumps pairs try for. But Duhamel & Radford became known for their much harder side by side triple lutzes. They were doing throw triple lutzes too, and at a time when far fewer pairs were doing them than do them now. Later they would try and occasionally land the throw quadruple salchow. They were also known for their creative choices in music, including one piece Radford, a talented composer, wrote for his late coach Paul Wirtz:
Up and Down and Up and Down and Up Again
Duhamel & Radford’s second season saw the big breakthrough, including their first Grand Prix medals and Final appearance, the first of seven straight Canadian National titles and a fifth place finish at Worlds. The next season they took their first World medal, and came into the Olympics vying for the podium. Things didn’t go as well there, where they came in a disappointing seventh in the individual event, but they repeated as World bronze medalists. Then the next season, when Radford came out, barring one team event they went undefeated, taking everything, including their first World title. Their free program’s end music said it all:
Their detractors were quick to point out that this season wasn’t the most competitive one. The two Russian pairs that had medaled at the previous Olympics both missed Worlds, and there weren’t any other top pairs quite on the scene. The following season, the two Russian pairs came back, and the two more who would eventually top the podium in PyeongChang arrived. Meanwhile, Duhamel & Radford had a few struggles and even lost a couple of times, including as defending champions at the Grand Prix Final.
But they only put their heads down and worked harder, developing more artistry while they were at it, for if it was never their strongest point, nor were they ever without it. And at the 2016 Worlds, they were the pair that delivered, winning a title much harder earned than the first with a sublime free skate, one they would bring back for the Olympics:
2017 would see more trouble, including a Worlds where they finished seventh, behind another Canadian pair, and were lucky not to lose Canada’s third Olympic berth. By the time they reached the Games, it was clear that while they weren’t out of the running for the gold medal, they’d need for it they ultimately wouldn’t get. But when what opportunities did come lay before them, they more or less rose to meet them. They were pivotal in Canada’s winning of gold in the team event, and their final competitive skate, which made Olympic history with their throw quad was truly a medal-worthy one. Radford also makes history as the first openly gay male athlete to win gold at the Winter Games.
They’re not leaving the ice yet; the summer should see them in Canadian Stars on Ice, and they’ve both spoke of remaining involved in skating in the future. If nothing else, we likely haven’t heard the last of Radford’s music on the ice. He’s already composed music for longtime friend and teammate Patrick Chan, and hopefully will compose more.