LONDON, Ont. – Meagan Duhamel left London three years ago with a bronze medal and a broken heart.
“I didn’t qualify for the Olympics,” Duhamel said. “It was the lowest point in my life. Rock bottom.”
Friday was the top.
Duhamel and partner Eric Radford scaled heights not seen by a Canadian pairs team in half a decade, claiming bronze at the world championships for Canada’s first medal at the event.
“It’s the most surreal unbelievable moment in our lives,” Duhamel said. “It’s something very special that we’ll have with us forever, and for it to happen at home in Canada topped it all off.”
Duhamel, whose third-place finish on the same London ice in 2010 with former partner Craig Buntin wasn’t enough to get her to the Vancouver Games, teamed up with Radford three years ago this month in a partnership that has put pairs back on the Canadian skating landscape.
“This is a nice little anniversary present,” Radford said.
They registered 204.56 points Friday to improve upon their fifth-place finish in last year’s world championships, and claimed Canada’s first world pairs medal since Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison were third in 2008.
“Last year we left the world championships and we said next year we’re going to be on the podium. We set a plan, we set a goal, we had a dream, and I think for a while we were the only ones who believed in it.
“And we did it. I think that’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov captured the gold medal with 225.71, setting records with both their free skate and overall score. Four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won the silver with 205.56.
Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto narrowly missed claiming a medal, finishing fourth (199.50), marking the first time Canada has had two pairs teams in the top four since 1962.
“I think Canada is becoming well-rounded in all disciplines, and that’s not something I’ve seen since I’ve been skating, for 18 years,” said Moore-Towers, who with Moscovitch, sparked the Canadian team’s momentum here as the first skaters to compete.
“It was awesome,” Moscovitch said. “We got to skate first for Canada from any discipline, we had a really exciting short program, we just got the ball rolling.”
Duhamel and Radford looked for awhile like their bronze would be silver. They were second after the short program and their only noticeable error in their free skate to the soundtrack from the British movie “Angel” was a botched three-jump combination that simply looked like they ran out of steam midway.
Their triple twist lift was so big, Radford had time to put his hands behind his back as the five-foot Duhamel was spinning skyward.
Their skate was considerably cleaner than that of Savchenko and Szolkowy, whose error-filled program to a flamenco version of “Bolero” had Twitter abuzz with references to “trainwreck” and had fans at Budweiser Gardens booing when their scores were announced.
Savchenko doubled a couple of planned triple jumps, while Szolkowy fell on a triple Salchow. Volosozhar and Trankov also weren’t perfect, with Trankov falling on a throw.
But the Canadian medal-winners were quick to shrug off any suggestions of disappointment in the marks.
“This bronze medal is golden to us. I don’t think we feel anything but joy about it,” Duhamel said.
The two said their hearts were in their throats watching Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov skate after them. The Russians had the potential to knock the Canadians off the podium, but that ended when Kavaguti fell out of a lift, and was left clutching onto Smirnov’s shoulders like she was riding piggy-back.
“It’s always harder to watch somebody because we’re not in control of what they’re doing,” Duhamel said. “I was watching, Eric went and sat in the bathroom and tried to forget about it.”
The Canadians’ combined results means that Canada will have three pairs entries in next year’s Sochi Olympics.
For Moore-Towers and Moscovitch, the near-medal was a huge success after they failed to make last year’s world championships.
They had one major flub, they said, on a lift.
“It’s kind of like we went through a wind storm, if you can imagine, that’s kind of what (the lift) felt like,” Moscovitch said.
“At that moment, I was thinking that Dylan was the strongest person I’ve ever met, because I don’t think I did my part in making that lift easy for him,” Moore-Towers said. “He did a good job at saving that.”
Volosozhar and Trankov’s lopsided victory gave Russia a sweep of the season’s titles. They’ve gone undefeated since they won silver at last year’s world championships.
“This means we can fight for gold in Sochi,” Trankov said. “Get the gold medal back for Russia.”