Meagan Duhamel: “I would like the judging system to reflect the real performance”
Interview with Meagan Duhamel for Russian media. In the interview Meagan shared who she is rooting for in pair and women’s single skating, how to stay healthy, working on ultra-c elements. She also talked about working with a progressive Japanese pair and the difficulties skaters face in Canada.
source: sport.business-gazeta.ru dd. 11th December 2021 by Ekaterina Ushkova
Megan, you had a long career in figure skating. What changes that have happened over the past four years can you highlight?
Meagan Duhamel: Well, this sport has changed a bit since 2018. Now the judges’ marks include -4, -5 and +4, +5, which is very different from when I competed. I don’t think it would have been beneficial for Eric and me, because we didn’t have impressive +5 skills.
We also see that the value of quadruple throws and twists has decreased, so now it is absolutely unprofitable to take risks, because a triple throw brings almost the same points. In single skating, a quad brings 12 – 13 points, and in pairs – five points less. Can you believe it? I told Javier Fernandez about this, and he replied: “It can’t be! Why?” I thought, “I don’t know.” If a pair lands quadruple throw, skaters get 8 points, and if a single skater jumps the quadruple salchow he gets 12-13 points …
What do you think about such a change in the judging system?
Meagan Duhamel: As for me, I love to see evolution in terms of how everyone is promoting the sport in different ways. It’s great if someone moves the sport forward in an artistic way. It’s amazing because it helps a pair to be the best at what they can do. And I like to see people who promote the sport technically: some with lifts, some with jumps, some with throws. Every athlete in any sport should find his own path that will allow him to succeed. And if you can’t do that, everyone looks the same. It seems to me that we have been watching triple salchow in pair skating since 1980. Now is 2021, it’s time to move forward. Imagine if men were still doing only double axels – it would be boring.
It’s sad that we do not have such a development, but on the other hand, I saw some Russian competitions and I think that Russian junior pairs are doing more interesting jump combos now. There are junior pairs who do triple lutz or sequence with a triple salchow, which is amazing. I like to see how this sport is progressing, I like to watch how people’s style develops. For example, it is nice to see that this year Tarasova and Morozov chose the classic style and found themselves in it.
You competed with Evgenia and Vladimir. This season they are training under the guidance of Eteri Tutberidze. Do you notice any changes? Why are they rarely able to show clean programs?
Meagan Duhamel: I think there is a small psychological problem. We know how easily they did side by side triple toe loop in juniors and in their early years at the senior level. At competitions, maybe they are nervous, stressed. I think the problem is more in the head than in the body. I don’t know whether they work with any sports psychologist. For me it was very important to work with such a specialist in the training process.
At the same time, Tarasova and Morozov have good programs. For a while, they have been experimenting with different styles, for example, when they skated to Candyman and other musical genres, and this did not help them. Now they have the right style, the right shape, and they need to pull themselves together to achieve more.
Mishina / Galliamov and Boikova / Kozlovskii train in the same group. What do you think of these two pairs? How does it feel to be in the same group with your main competitors?
Meagan Duhamel: In Canada, ice dancers have the same situation. It’s okay for me if you train with your main competitor. It’s like a daily competition: you push each other to get better every day. It’s great.
My favorite pair in the world right now is Mishina / Galliamov because of their energetic style. They are unique. They have a special energy, unusual choreography, they make very interesting movements and jumps combinations. I also like their musical choices. Of course, my heart is with a Japanese pair (Meagan coaches Riku Miura / Ryuichi Kihara – ed.), But at the champion level my favorites are Mishina / Galliamov.
I liked Boikova / Kozlovskii two years ago, when they reached the senior level and were very successful. Now something is going wrong. At the Skate America, they looked unprepared. Maybe they are injured and don’t train, I don’t know. It seems to me that something is wrong with the way they prepare for the competitions.
What other Russian pairs can you single out?
Meagan Duhamel: I like Iuliia Artemeva / Mikhail Nazarychev, who took third place at the Grand Prix in Italy and second in France. Two years ago, they were third at the Junior World Championships. I really like this pair. I find their lifts are unique and they skate in a circus music style, which I love. They have good energy, they are very powerful, they do difficult jumps combinations and interesting choreography. I think they will be a great pair in the future.
Previously, I really liked Daria Pavliuchenko / Denis Khodykin, but at Skate Canada they did not impress me. Their performances were a little messy. But I love their short program this year: it’s creative, it feels like non-stop fun, and they do a lot of lifts.
You also skated with the Chinese pair Wenjing Sui / Cong Han, who are now competing with Russian pairs. What can you say about them this season?
Meagan Duhamel: Of course, this is strong and experienced pair with great charisma. They have much more experience than Mishina / Galliamov, which can play a certain role at the Olympics. I love Sui / Han – they are one of my favorite pairs. But I think they no longer can compete technically with the best Russian pairs. Mishina / Galliamov perform triple salchow + euler + triple salchow, and Sui / Han cannot even make one triple salchow.
At one time, we worked very hard to get level four for all our elements, and we got it pretty consistently. Sui / Han have been losing levels for many years: third level for a lift, second level for spin, and this is half a point there, half a point here. When you do not have a triple salchow, there is only one jump left to complete in the free program, so you need all of these levels. It seems that for many years they haven’t been focusing on this, and I would like them to pay attention to this, or maybe they have already focused on this, I don’t know. But for many years they have been losing their levels.
When I competed, I always knew that if we do everything on the level four, and also do all our jumps and throws, we will beat them, because they will lose points on the elements. And that’s a shame, because I think it’s easy to fix. If they had worked on it, the battle for the gold medal could have been more interesting.
Let’s move on to the most discussed topic in Russian figure skating – women’s single skating. Most of the top skaters train in the Tutberidze group and do crazy elements. What do you think of young girls performing ultra-c jumps?
Meagan Duhamel: I think it’s great that they are promoting our sport and make it fun, because if everyone had been doing the same combination of triple lutz and double toe loop, it would have been boring. Everything is good as long as nothing threats their health, they take care of their bodies, eat well and recover well. But if they don’t take proper care of themselves, it is possible that these difficult jumps will result in injuries. It’s not very good that such skaters as Usacheva and Trusova are injured now.
I was 29 when I mastered quads, so my situation is a little different from theirs. I did such elements in the safest way for me and I was sure that I spend all my workouts outside the ice, that I eat well so that my body is strong and ready to cope with the load of quads. So I have never had an injury.
I hope that the girls will choose the safest way and will be able to perform these amazing things for a long time. In addition, the main job of the coach is to make sure they train correctly, safely and with a positive attitude. If I had done too many quads, my coach wouldn’t have allowed it and said: “No, today you did three, you can’t do more, it’s already unsafe.” And even if I wanted to, the coach would not allow me.
The debutante of the senior season Kamila Valieva amazes viewers and judges with her skating. What do you think of this athlete?
Meagan Duhamel: Of course, Kamila is a special skater, and if she skates well, she is the only at the top of the world. She has excellent smooth, fast skating, light jumps. She jumps quadruples and triple axel – full set. I don’t find her free program inspiring and I’m not sure that I’m the only one who feels that, but I like her short program more. I wish her free skate were more emotionally inspiring, but of course, when she focuses on quads and triple axels, it’s hard to show it, I understand. I think she’s the best right now.
Can someone beat Kamila if she skates clean?
Meagan Duhamel: Maybe Trusova, if she jumps five quads. We saw how Trusova tried five quads at the test skates and landed four of them. If she jumps five quads, no one can beat Trusova. But we haven’t seen her doing it at competitions yet, while Kamila performed quadruples and triple axels at Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup.
If Trusova is healthy again, strong and performs four or five quads in a free program, in simple mathematics, she will score more points, because points are points. I like her free program, I think Cruella’s character and music suits her. I love her energy, fighting spirit and determination. I don’t know her personally, but I feel I support her very much, because I like such a strong and dynamic skating style.
Most of all I like Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. People I communicate with in figure skating – figure skaters, coaches, functionaries – they cheer for her. They all want her to be successful. Because Tuktamysheva has gone through a lot in this sport, but continues to fight and improve. This is amazing. She’s special for me this season.
In the Tutberidze group, the programs for all athletes are choreographed by one choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz, so you can notice the similarities in the step sequences and in performance of the elements. Do you think it is good that one choreographer works with the whole team, or is it better to work with different specialists?
Meagan Duhamel: Well, the judges give them high scores, so it makes no sense for them to change something, right? I think it’s good to take knowledge from many choreographers. It helped me as a skater that I worked with different people.
What changes in ISU rules do you think might come after this Olympic season?
Meagan Duhamel: I think that you can add a few more creative things to figure skating. I would pay more attention to the choreographic elements. I like that in ice dance they have spins, lifts, step sequences. I wish there was more freedom in pairs and single skating. It would be really cool for pairs to have a choreographic lift, where you do not need to catch the leg, make difficult entry and exit. Or even a choreographic spin. This could give more chances to show imagination in skating.
In the women’s singles, maybe in the next Olympic cycle, quadruple jumps in the short program will be allowed. Why not? Men are allowed to do them, so why restrict women? They should also be allowed in pair skating, because, unfortunately, their value is now reduced.
Can the judging system be also changed somehow?
Meagan Duhamel: If I worked at ISU, I would like to see some changes in the assessment of the program components. Nowadays, they often give one mark for each category, but in reality this is not so – someone can have really cool and crazy choreography, but very poor skating skills. Thus, he should receive 9.5 points for choreography and 6.5 points for skating skills. Why don’t we have this difference? For several years, in 2012-2014, my partner and I tried to do a lot of transition movements: difficult entry to the throw, difficult entry into the death spiral, entry and exit from the spin. We tried very hard to fulfill these transitions and thought that our score would grow, but this did not happen. And when we removed the transitions, the scores increased.
I would like to have a larger range of points. Kamila has a lot of transitions and they are well done, which gives her a very high score in this component. But, perhaps, the composition of the program is not as strong as the transitions, but now we see all 9.25 or all 8.5 points. There is no range, although that is exactly what it was designed for. I would like the judging system to reflect the real performance. It would be fair.
When you skated yourself, your coach was your husband Bruno Marcotte. Did your personal relationships get in the way of your working routine?
Meagan Duhamel: No, everything was very simple. We have always been a “coach” and a “skater”. We had a dynamic that suited us, and my partner was Eric (Radford – ed.). Eric and I were a team, Bruno didn’t yell at us, we treated each other with respect and trained to get better.
I’ve always been a leader. Sometimes in training, my husband told us: “Maybe today you will do less, it’s Friday,” and I said: “No, we will do everything” – and Bruno did not even argue. I think I was a little more like a boss, but in pair skating that’s okay. Alena Savchenko was like that, Wenjing Sui is like that, I think it’s a common thing in pair skating if a woman is a little more aggressive.
After completing your career, you and Bruno started your own figure skating school. How is it going now? When did you realize you wanted to become a coach?
Meagan Duhamel: I’ve always liked teaching someone and sharing my knowledge. Unfortunately, in the last two or three years that we have been trying to implement this project, we have had a few small problems. Now my husband runs the school, and I do my own business outside of it. But I support him. A little drama happened, and I don’t like drama in figure skating or in life. So I said, “I don’t want to deal with this,” and left.
However, you continue to train the Japanese pair Riku Miura / Ryuichi Kihara. They won silver and bronze medals at the Grand Prix this season and became the first Japanese pair since 2011 to do so. How did you start working with them?
Meagan Duhamel: My husband has been working with Riku for a long time. We even trained together when she was only 13-14 years old, and I helped her with her former partner. But at some point, she no longer wanted to skate with him. Riku went home to Japan to rest and found Ryuichi there. She asked my husband if they could work together and he advised them to try and send him a video. They did it. Then Riku and Ryuichi came to Canada to train with my husband. When they arrived in 2019 I told Bruno that in a year this pair will be competing for medals at big competitions. And the husband said: “We’ll see.” But then a pandemic came and the skating rinks closed. So I was wrong and it took two years (smiles). But I think it would have happened last year if we hadn’t had problems with the coronavirus.
We immediately saw potential in them, but rather in their character then in skating. If you give them direction, they will try to do everything. They respect and listen to the coach. Although I don’t coach them at the rink right now, I give them feedback after every competition and they try to fix what I said. They have the right qualities to be successful: they are determined, they work hard and they want to be the best, they want to challenge themselves. I saw it in their personalities and knew that one day they would succeed. Because this must be a certain person who will do everything, whatever the cost. I was also a skater who did everything to succeed. And I see in them many of the qualities that I had myself.
Which of your skaters will be able to shine brightly in the next Olympic cycle?
Meagan Duhamel: There’s a big failure now in Canadian figure skating. Our team is not that strong. When the arenas were closed due to covid, no one could train, which is why we lost a lot of time for the development of athletes at the junior and senior levels. Unfortunately, it will take a long time to recover.
I think Canada needs to rebuild the whole system completely. We have no top skaters except for one ice dance pair who are competing for medals at the Grand Prix. We need to change our system from the very beginning, and I would like to have an opportunity to work with the federation to do this. They don’t ask me for help, but I would like to.
Do you think government support for figure skaters is possible in Canada?
Meagan Duhamel: No, our government, unfortunately, will never agree to this. Our parents or skaters pay for everything themselves. For example, in 2008, when I was skating with my previous partner, we took sixth place at the World Championships. At the same time, I worked full time to pay for my training … And this despite the fact that I was the sixth in the world. You will never hear something like that in Russia, because when you are the sixth in the world, you are a professional athlete. It’s like a different world. We have to rely on relatives. They must be either very rich in order to invest in you without any problems, or simply crazy to help you along the way.
How was it in your case?
Meagan Duhamel: At the age of 13-14, I told my mother that I needed to move on and work with the best coach. My federation didn’t come up to me and said, “Oh, you’re very good, you have potential.” I told my mother that I need to move, I need a better coach, because I want to go to the Olympics. So my mom and I had to find a coach, move and pay for it all ourselves. I parted with my former partner in 2010 and needed to find a new one. I asked the federation who they could suggest, but they said: “Oh no, we will not help you with this, you have to find someone yourself.” Whereas in Russia they will tell you: “Okay, you are great, you will skate with this person, this is your coach.”
I don’t think that in Canada it will ever be as in Russia, and we don’t need it, because this is not our culture. But it would be nice if we had a little more support and help. When I was 14, my mother didn’t know what to do, so she called the judge and asked him, “Is she good? Maybe she should leave to find a new coach? ” Nobody told us anything. Of course, this is my story, but it is very similar to the story of other successful Canadian skaters.
How much does it cost to provide a skater in Canada with everything needed for a professional career?
Meagan Duhamel: Canada is different from the United States. Of course, in Canada it’s cheaper. First, you pay for all your time on the ice, somewhere around five thousand dollars a year. Then you pay your coach about $ 80 an hour – it depends on how many lessons you want. You also pay the choreographer a thousand or two dollars for a simple program, and more if you want a more complex one. In addition, you need a costume. In addition, I had to move, so my parents had to pay the family I lived with. I think we had to spend about 60 thousand dollars a year.
Only the best got the support. As soon as I started winning medals at the World Championships, won at Nationals, I started to receive money from the Olympic committee and from the government. We receive support only after we achieve success, although, perhaps, it should be the other way around.
As you mentioned, prize money plays a big role in a skater’s career. What did the athletes do during the pandemic, when there were no competitions?
Meagan Duhamel: In Canada, we get all of our prize money. They go directly to the skaters. Neither the federation nor the coach take them for themselves, which is already good. However, during the pandemic, there was no show, there were no competitions, so many skaters in Canada continued to work: they coached, had a part-time job to earned money. Even if they compete internationally, they still work because figure skating is expensive and they don’t get government funding like they do in Russia. So it was a difficult time for athletes, so many decided to keep the old programs, old costumes, they also began to skate less. My husband’s skaters, for example, instead of training on ice for 3 hours a day, train for 2 hours because they cannot afford more.
There are many top coaches in Canada, such as you and your husband, Brian Orser, the Dubreuil and Lauzon group. But they coach foreign skaters and their students are pretty successful. Why do you think Canadian skaters cannot achieve the same results?
Meagan Duhamel: You made a good point saying that we have really great coaches, but they are successful with foreign skaters. It is true. Figure skaters come from different countries, Asian and European, and they have a different work ethic, and figure skating is their job. This is their life and they do their best. The coach tells them to repeat twice, and they do three times because they are full of desire and determination.
And I was like that too, this is my character. However, this is not so typical of Canadian athletes. More often they simply do not have the same dedication as skaters from other countries who come to Canada.
A new pair has appeared in the Canadian national team this season. Your former partner Eric Radford and Vanessa James. What do you think about this situation in general and about the new pair?
Meagan Duhamel: I don’t quite understand Eric’s decision. We ended our careers together, Eric had a lot of injuries. I love training, going to the skating rink and working, and Eric never liked that. He said: “I train only to go to the competitions and win.” We had planned to perform in shows and were looking forward to this opportunity. But they were all canceled due to the coronavirus, and I think he did not know what to do next … But this is just my guess. When I watch them skate and see their results, I don’t understand why he did this. It seems strange to me, but this is his decision.
How did he tell you that he teamed up with Vanessa?
Meagan Duhamel: One day he called me and said: “Vanessa got permission, and I skate with her.” At that time, we trained together for three or four months. And while he teamed up with Vanessa, he was still telling me: “Yes, we will go on this tour, we will do it.” That is, I build my life around these things, and he does something else behind my back.
I don’t think it was professional, but maybe it’s time to change something in my life. Maybe it was a sign. That’s all I can say because I’m still confused. I didn’t have to go back to the competitions, and I wasn’t upset that he wanted to come back. But this person has been very close to me for 10 years. We went through so much together, we had a whole journey. We had great success with the show, we were invited to many places. And we both thought this was our career.
And how did his decision to return affect the rest in the national team?
Meagan Duhamel: I think his decision caused some problems for other Canadian pairs. Eric was to choreograph a short program for Kirsten and Michael (Moore Towers / Marinaro – ed.), And he wrote the music for it. And suddenly Kirsten and Michael say: “No, we no longer want you to choreograph a program for us, because now you will be our rival.” It was a hard blow for them. He was also the choreographer for another Canadian pair, Trennt / Evelyn (Michaud / Walsh – ed.). And when Eric told them that he was coming back, wanted to go to the Olympics, but also wanted to do their choreography, they said, “No, thanks.” I think there was a lot of confusion in the Canadian skating community too.
Related topics: Alexandra Boikova Dmitri Kozlovski, Alexandra Trusova, Anastasiia Mishina Alexander Galliamov, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Evgenia Tarasova Vladimir Morozov, Kamila Valieva, meagan Duhamel, Vanessa James Eric Radford
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