HELSINKI — Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford came to Helsinki with visions of a third consecutive world pairs title.
But a peculiar hip injury to Radford derailed their dreams, and left the two both proud that they persevered but way down in seventh place after the short program.
Skating to Seal's "Killer," the two-time defending champs, who were practically unbeatable the previous two seasons, scored 72.67 points for their shaky program.
How difficult was it?
"I can't even tell you," Radford said. "Last night was one of the most difficult nights of my entire life. I feel so proud. It still doesn't feel 100 per cent. I still was going in with 'what-ifs.' But I think the way we skated was excellent for the condition. And I think we're both a little surprised with how low the score was. We anticipated it was going to be higher after our performance.
"But it just builds confidence for (Thursday's long program). I've just got another four-and-a-half minutes of skating to get through and I really just hope that my hip can hold up."
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China were first with 81.23 points, followed by Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany (79.84) and Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia (79.37).
Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch were the top Canadians in sixth place with 73.14 points.
Radford, a 32-year-old from Balmertown, Ont., had revealed a day earlier that he was battling a hip injury that began with a muscle spasm a week earlier. He spent much of Tuesday night receiving treatment — "I'm surprised that my hip is still intact. It's been massaged to death," he said.
Wednesday night, Radford looked at times like he was gritting his teeth to get through, particularly in their side-by-side sit spins. He clearly didn't have the flexibility or strength for a full crouch.
"That was actually the biggest risk," he said. "I didn't know, that was one of those 'what ifs,' am I just going to have to save it?"
A day earlier, he had fallen repeatedly on his triple Lutz in practice, so they opted to swap the jump out for side-by-side triple toe loops, which put less pressure on the bad hip.
"It was either change the jump or pull out," said coach Bruno Marcotte.
"We haven't tried a side-by-side triple toe until today since the first week of December," Duhamel said. "I don't know anybody else in the world who can not train a jump for three months, and go out, skating last, at the world championships and do one."
It wasn't the first time Radford has competed injured. At the 2011 world championships, Duhamel badly broke Radford's nose with a sharp elbow in the short program. They went on to finish seventh.
Marcotte, who is also Duhamel's husband, believes will rebound with a vengeance in next year's Olympic season.
"They're hungry, but I think they're really going to be hungry coming home," Marcotte said. "They've always come up to their best performance when they have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. It hasn't been really the case in the last couple of years.
"They're really strong individuals, and I think sometimes when something hard happens, usually people get back stronger together, and work more as a team. I think that's what's going to happen."
Radford said they're not considering withdrawing. These world championships are important as they determine how many spots a country can enter in each event at the Olympics. Plus, he said it's not the type of injury that will get worse.
"I hope that even if I wake up tomorrow and it's 15 per cent better, that'll make it that much easier to get through the long program," he said.
Tarasova was also competing injured after an accident in the morning practice. Massot had sliced her leg with his blade when the two fell, a gash that required about a dozen stitches and had them questioning whether they could compete.
Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch, meanwhile, were all smiles after their skate to "Tango Jalousie."
"We are definitely happy," said Ilyushechkina. "We did everything. . . we stayed in sync, and we did everything one by one to the end of the program with some emotions exploding in the middle from me."
"Lubov got a little excited," Moscovitch said, laughing.
"It's good. . .it brings me more out of my head from thinking too much. It was fun, it was well-done."
The Toronto skaters were buoyed by the strong results of teammates Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman, who finished second and third in the women's short program earlier in the day.
"I believe in momentum. They were absolutely incredible, it felt good coming to the rink and seeing our teammates skate that way," Moscovitch said.
"I'm very proud of our ladies," Ilyushechkina added. "What I felt when I watched them. . . from the depths of the heart, I was very happy. I think I kept a piece of that warmth in myself and brought it tonight. Definitely good energy."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press