HELSINKI — On the eve of the world figure skating championships, Canada's two-time pairs champion Eric Radford woke up and could "hardly move."
The 32-year-old from Balmertown, Ont., is battling an injury to his right hip that struck last week and plagued him during Tuesday's two practice sessions, the worst possible timing for Radford and pairs partner Meagan Duhamel.
"It's extremely frustrating," Radford said.
Radford originally felt the injury to the hip of his landing leg last week, describing it as a spasmed muscle deep in his abdominals.
"It was bugging me but still I had good control. It was just sort of sore," he said. "And then this morning I woke up and it was so stiff that I could hardly move, and then when I got on the ice, I can't squeeze my legs together. I don't know what muscle it is specifically. . . when I'm in the air, I can't pull in properly, my legs feel like they're going to fly apart. And even when I do cross-cuts, I feel like I don't have a lot of control over my hips."
It mostly affects their side-by-side triple Lutz jumps because he pivots powerfully off his right hip. He fell on three of them during Tuesday afternoon's practice and touched a hand down on a fourth.
"What it feels like is the muscle's not responding, it feels like when you have jelly legs," he said.
A fall on the triple Lutz in competition would be costly. The element in the short program comes with a base score of 6.0 plus a potential 3.0 added points for grade of execution (GOE). A fall would come with a negative GOE score, plus a 1.0 deduction for the fall.
Radford has had a hip impingement, a syndrome that affects range of motion, since 2012, but has managed it through treatment.
He received treatment after practice and said it felt slightly better, and will undergo treatment Wednesday morning before he and Duhamel skate the short program later in the day.
"I'm just hoping I wake up and it's back to normal because right now it still feels weak," Radford said, adding he's not considering withdrawing. "I'm still going to just do it, maybe the Lutz won't work. Everything else has been really good. It'll just be that jump."
The injury comes at the tail end of a roller-coaster campaign for Duhamel and Radford, who were so dominant through the previous two seasons, winning all but one competition.
They finished third at this season's Grand Prix Final and second at Four Continents last month, and then headed back to the drawing board the past few weeks to reassess "what's gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competitions the way that we're training," Duhamel said.
"We had been training so amazingly, and then we had disappointing performances. We left nationals feeling very positive and I think we both experienced I guess a state of shock at Four Continents, we weren't expecting to have mediocre performances like that."
They made numerous changes to their program in the weeks leading up to Helsinki, and Duhamel said they'd been confident that two solid programs would be enough for a third straight world title.
Duhamel, in particular, had been looking forward to these world championships because of her Finnish heritage.
"It's extremely special," she said. "After Sochi when Eric and I weren't sure how long we would continue competing for and it was announced that the world championships were going to be in Finland in 2017, I immediately thought: I have to keep going until then, I have to continue until worlds in Helsinki."
Duhamel will have numerous family members in attendance at Hartwell Arena, including her grandmother who grew up in the tiny farm town of Kauhava before moving to Canada and hasn't been back to Finland for nearly 20 years.
Whether the worlds go their way, Radford said this season has been a learning experience.
"I think a big part of what we learned is that even when you think you've learned everything, you really haven't," Radford said. "You would think with all the experience we have, that we could just press a button and produce a perfect performance like that each time. But I guess sport in general is just not like that.
"I think that it's keeping perspective and still enjoying all the hard work even when things don't work out. It can be very disheartening sometimes when you're expecting greatness and it doesn't happen, and I think that Meagan and I are always there for one another and we just keep persevering and doing our best."
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Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press