Patrick Chan did a mock baton pass to teammates Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford down in the warmup area of the Iceberg Skating Palace between events Thursday night.
Canada’s pairs team took it and ran.
Duhamel and Radford had perhaps the skate of their careers Thursday to put Canada in second place of the inaugural team figure skating event at the Sochi Olympics, just two points behind Russia.
Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Balmertown, Ont., were second in the pairs short program after three-time world champion Chan finished third in the men’s short.
“I think that was the greatest feeling,” said Duhamel, who clasped both hands over her mouth after the music stopped. “It’s not the points, it’s not the winning, it’s not Canada winning a medal.
“To perform like that and finish our program with that feeling we had, it’s every athlete’s dream here in Sochi and at any Olympics, and we just did it, we just lived the ultimate moment of every athlete in the world.”
Russia leads with 19 points after Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov finished first in the pairs short and veteran Evgeni Plushenko was a surprising second in the men’s event. China is third with 15 points.
The team event continues with the short dance, women’s short program and pairs long program Saturday.
The event’s debut was a hit with the skaters and the crowd, which warmed up as the night went on. By the time Volosozhar and Trankov skated, the arena was rocking, spectators were chanting and stomping their feet.
Skaters sat as teams along one end in Davis Cup fashion.
“It was interesting to see the wave going around and I think the Germans had a cowbell,” said Canadian captain Scott Moir. “It was fun. But it was hard for us not to go back to Vancouver personally, seeing the Russian team and Evgeni skate so well in front of a home crowd.
“It really is a special moment for those skaters and for Sochi, so for us it’s nice way to start the Games.”
Moir and partner Tessa Virtue will skate both the short dance and free program in the team event.
If Thursday night was a big confidence boost for Duhamel and Radford, it may have been a wakeup call for Chan, a favourite for gold in the individual event here.
The 23-year-old from Toronto landed his quad, but then doubled the planned triple toe loop and stepped out of the landing of his triple Axel.
“All I can say is it was getting used to the buzz in the rink after practising so long by myself, me myself and I,” said Chan, who’d had the ice to himself for a couple of practices earlier in the week. “It’s different to be able to skate in a crowd and with other skaters, other skaters I haven’t practised with, all those things play a factor.”
Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who beat Chan at the Grand Prix Final in December, finished first in the men’s short program, pumping his fists after his huge quad.
But it was Plushenko who stole the show in his first major international event since the 2010 Olympics.
“I’m so happy with my performance today,” said the 2006 Olympic champion, who underwent back surgery last year to replace a deteriorated disc in his spine. “That’s the fourth Olympic Games in my life.
“Twelve surgeries and after 12 surgeries I can compete, I can skate. It doesn’t matter what kind of result it will be in the end. I’ve already won — for myself.”
If the team event was a preview for the individual men’s event that begins Feb. 13, Chan may have his work cut out for him. He said, however, it was the perfect chance to shake off the nerves.
“There was that feeling that I want to be so perfect because people are watching, I feel like the centre of attention. All those little things crept into my mind,” Chan said. “Now I can go out . . . and just to go for it, and go for the landings, and attack the landings.
“I think I was a little passive on the landings, just letting it happen as opposed to really sticking them.”
Chan isn’t expected to skate the long program in the team event. Countries are permitted up to two substitutions for the long program and he’ll be one of them. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., will replace Chan so he can focus on his individual competition.
Chan said it feels a bit awkward to hand off to Reynolds.
“A little bit,” he said. “But it also feels good, it shows my teammates that it can be done.
“I’m the first one out and I’m alive after it, there’s nothing to be scared of, I can lead the team in that aspect, I can be the first one to go out for the team. Right now, I’m happy to hand it off.”
As Russia’s only men’s singles skater at the Olympics, Plushenko has no choice but to do the long program. However, the way the 31-year-old looked Thursday night, skating with a measure of oomph he hasn’t shown in years, he won’t have much trouble.
“You know sometimes people ask me ‘How are you? How do you feel? I’m still alive. That’s the important thing,” Plushenko said. “I skated for my audience, I skated for my fans. I skated for myself, for my young son. I have two sons already. One big son, seven years old, Youngest one, one-year-old.
“I’m old,” he added with a laugh. “But I’m still alive and I’m so happy I can compete with 17-, 18-year-old guys.”
Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova called Plushenko’s performance a gift to everyone involved in the sport.
“He has shown us a possibility to think that many athletes can skate until such an age,” she said. “It’s a new concept. I am grateful for seeing that. It is not just a return but a return of a genius.”
Canada was the No. 1-ranked team going into the competition that sees the first-place finisher in each event receive 10 points, with second place getting nine points, and so on.
Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Toronto’s Dylan Moscovitch are expected to skate the pairs long program in place of Duhamel and Radford.
Japan was fourth Thursday with 13 points, led by Hanyu who is coached by Canada’s Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser in Toronto. The Canadian coach painted an odd picture sitting amongst the Japanese team in the kiss and cry.
“I’m just supporting my athletes, I guess I’m kind of neutral in that regard,” Orser said. “I’m here to support my athlete, support his supporters, I guess.”
Orser said the inaugural event was a learning experience for everyone.
“It’s so strange for all of us, for the athletes, for the coaches,” he said. “I was nervous of course but I’ll be more nervous next week.”