Chan, Duhamel and Radford have Canada in lead in Olympic team figure skating

The Canadian Press
Chan, Duhamel and Radford have Canada in lead in Olympic team figure skating
Chan, Duhamel and Radford have Canada in lead in Olympic team figure skating

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — The first day of Patrick Chan's final Olympics began before the sun came up over South Korea.

The three-time world champion rose at 5 a.m. He grabbed a coffee on the way to the bus for a 7 a.m. pre-competition practice. Then it was back to the athletes village for some oatmeal, and the briefest of rests before hopping the bus back to the Gangneung Ice Arena for a 10 a.m. competition.

The bleary-eyed Chan had a shaky skate to open Canada's gold-medal quest in the figure skating team event at the Pyeongchang Winter Games. But he wasn't the only one.

"I don't think any of us in our entire careers, even mine, have ever skated this early, or with this type of schedule. I definitely think that played a role," said Chan, who'll retire after the Olympics. "But we're not in control of that."

Skating to "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas, the three-time world champion from Toronto fell on both his quadruple toe loop and triple Axel to score 81.66, putting him third in the men's short program. 

Shoma Uno was the only skater to lay down anything resembling a clean program, scoring 103.25 to put Japan briefly in the lead. Alexei Bychenko of Israel was second with 88.49, while American phenom Nathan Chen, considered a favourite for gold in the individual event, shockingly fell once and popped a quad jump to score just 80.61.

Two-time world pairs champs Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., had a better day than Chan, finishing second with a score of 76.57 — good enough to push Canada into the lead after two of eight events with 17 points, three ahead of the Americans. Japan is third with 13.

Figure skating traditionally runs well into the evening at the Olympic Games, but North American prime time television demands have it finishing by early afternoon in South Korea, throwing skaters' schedules all topsy-turvy.

"I had 20 minutes on my bed laying down watching 'Friends,'" Chan said of his brief break back at the athletes village. "And then get back up and getting everything ready and packed to go. So just felt a little more frantic."

Canada captured silver when the team event made its Olympic debut four years ago in Sochi. But boasting a veteran team that is solid across all four disciplines, the Canadians arrived in South Korea as the world No. 1-ranked team.

The team event, with its Ryder Cup vibe, sees the world's 10 top countries compete in short programs of all four disciplines. Only the five top teams move on to compete in the long program.

Duhamel and Radford watched Chan skate ahead of them back in their respective rooms at the athletes village.

"I texted Meagan just before he started and said 'I'm really nervous,'" Radford said. "She said 'We can't be emotionally involved right now, we have our own job to do.'

"We are a very strongly connected team, there's such a strong team atmosphere. Just as they were about to call our names, I looked over at Scott (Moir, Canada's Olympic gold and silver medallist in ice dancing) and we gave each other a little acknowledgement. There's just a great energy that's building around the entire team."

Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, topped the pairs short program with 80.92, while Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot were third with 75.36.

Unique to the team event, skaters sit rinkside in country boxes, and can join their teammates in the "kiss and cry."

When Duhamel was running through visualization exercises before taking the ice Friday morning, and was trying to picture the perfect skate, she laughingly said she couldn't help but picture a wildly cheering Moir in the background.

"I thought 'Oh my god, I've got to ignore him,'" Duhamel said.

There's an undeniable chemistry in this Canadian figure skating team, which has eight world titles between them.

"I lived with Scott over a summer when he was a little annoying 10-year-old boy. He was like the annoying little brother," Radford said. "We've all known each other so long, and it's just this incredible story that we've all been through, and it's coming to its conclusion, and we want to make it the best possible." 

Chan felt the love too. Stepping off the ice after his disappointing skate, he was happy to see the smiling faces of his Canadian teammates. Moir wrapped him in a huge hug.

"It sounds cheesy, but having them there, normally if it was just me by myself, I would start analyzing (my program), being disappointed in the skate, but they were all so supportive," Chan said. "No need to apologize to them or anything. I think that's the greatness of the team event, this isn't about me, this is about all of us. Each discipline can support each other, even if some of us have mistakes or bad days."

Rather than tally up total judging scores, team event scoring is based on ranking — the top skater in each discipline receives 10 points, and so on down to one point.

Russia won gold in Sochi with 75 points. Canada finished with 65, while the U.S. won bronze with 60.

The team event continues Sunday and Monday.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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