“Pair skating is in a major rebuilding phase now” Interview with Meagan Duhamel
FS Gossips made a big interview with Meagan Duhamel about the current situation in pair skating, its development, issues with nutrition that skaters face, and a healthy approach to the sport. We’re going to divide interview in two parts for the ease of reading.
Part 1 About current situation in pair skating, ways of its developments and quads.
Part 2 About nutrition, healthy approach to the sport and sharing positive experience of it.
Meagan, thank you for agreeing to have this conversation! I’m so glad to talk to you because I love your interviews! You’re so passionate about the sport; you follow it closely, and you have your own strong opinion. And unlike most athletes who say nice and correct things in interviews, which in fact may not always be what they really think, you are not afraid to voice your opinion. Don’t you think such an approach would benefit the sport more?
Meagan Duhamel: I agree, I think that it would be nice to hear more depth to somebody’s answers. Those interviews where it’s just nice and pleasant, it’s like the surface. When I’m giving answers, I’m going deeper than the surface, to the real depth and the real truth. And my federation did not always like it. They used to tell me to “Stop tweeting, stop saying this, stop saying that,” when I was competing. But I don’t care too much what other people think. I want to share my voice and my opinions, and most importantly, I want to make a positive change in the sport. That’s what I want to use my voice for. There are so many things that need to be changed within this sport, and I want to be part of making it better. It never gets better if people don’t speak up.
I know you wanted to talk about nutrition, but I couldn’t help but ask you about pair skating first. The level of competition in pair skating has decreased significantly. Many have retired following the Olympic season; Russians are banned. But overall, do you think it’s a natural post-Olympics recession or pair skating is in real trouble?
Meagan Duhamel: It’s a little bit more than normal. Of course, I’ve never seen pair teams win Grand Prix events or medal in Grand Prix events with throw doubles and side-by-side double jumps. Maybe a double axel, but not double sal or double toe. And I asked my husband, “Do you think that even in the 90s it happened that pairs won medals with simple doubles?” I don’t think so.
So yeah, it’s in a major rebuilding phase, but I think there are some really great skaters in the pair discipline. Some teams are young and some are really great skaters but they may not be with the right partner right now. In pair skating, sometimes all it takes is the right partner to move from 15th to 2nd or 1st place. It can happen very quickly if you’re paired with the right person. It’s at quite a low now. Probably, the lowest that I can remember in terms of difficulty being done, but it’s exciting to see so much new faces getting experience, and they’ll be able to push the sport further down the road. It’s really nice that we’re seeing new faces; they’re getting opportunities.
Who should we start paying attention to?
Meagan Duhamel: Well, just from what I’ve seen, like a couple of videos online, the Italian skater Matteo Guarise. He has a new partner now, and I just saw they did a competition last weekend, and they looked really good. Obviously, they are new, they are not in the Grand Prix circuit yet, but when they compete, it won’t take long for them to be quite competitive. In Canada, we have a new team as well. Trennt Michaud got a new partner, and they were pretty promising when they competed last weekend at a small event in Canada. Also looking at juniors, we have a team from Australia and a team from Japan that were very strong. So it’s exciting for those countries to further develop pair skating.
If the technical level isn’t that strong now, maybe it’s worth focusing on the artistic side of the programs more?
Meagan Duhamel: Yes, I’d like to see that. I’ve always been drawn to acrobatics; it’s like the most sports side; that’s my nature; but I’d like to see more variety with music. We see a lot of the same genre of music from a lot of the teams. Well, it may be beautiful when you watch the same thing and hear the same type of music again and again. But sometimes it’s a bit too much. So, it would be great to see skaters really branch out and skate more bold, dynamic music choices or character driven music choices that are more theatrical and use that to put on a show little bit more. I think that while the elements are being pushed, looking at some new genres of music would be nice.
You know, what always wondered me? There are athletes who haven’t hight technical level or are newcomers. Why not create something cool or unusual in terms of program or choreography? Why do many athletes continue using the same music and be afraid to stand out when there’s no risk of losing because of the music choice?
Meagan Duhamel: I always think the same. When I competed, we really experimented with lots of different styles. We did Alice in Wonderland, which was very theatrical. It didn’t work, but we tried. And then we did Muse, we skated to music from Seal the year before the Olympics, that was really hard rock music. We tried different things. Sometimes they worked, like Muse. When they worked very well, we won our first world title. Seal and Alice in Wonderland were not that well. But we tried, we experimented, and then, when it was the Olympics and timing was critical, we went back to what’s comfortable. But before that, we experimented and found out what was comfortable for us. So I’m not too sure why people don’t branch out a little bit more; I really don’t have an answer for that.
How long do you think it will take for pair skating to reach the level of the previous Olympic cycle? I’m not even mentioning the 2018 Olympic cycle, which was kind of a Golden Age for pair skating.
Meagan Duhamel: I think it’s important to say that once we get to the Grand Prix Final and Worlds, the top teams will be great. The Japanese team is great, Alexa and Brandon are great, and right now the Canadian team of Deanna and Max is doing really well. When they’re all in one competition, like the best of the best, we’ll see a high level at the top. And we still don’t know what the Chinese are doing, whether Peng and Jin are going to compete later in the season or something. Of course, they’re very high level, and they can be competitive as well.
I think one of the reasons why the group of 2018 was, as you’ve said “kind of the Golden Age,” and I agree with you, is because there were so many good teams all at once pushing each other. And when you have that type of competition, even if it’s a competition from Russia, or Germany, or China, or wherever, it pushes you to be better. Now, when we’re watching the Grand Prix events, the winners could do the double jumps, they didn’t even need to push themselves to do more because it was just an easy win. So once they’re all together in one competition at the Grand Prix Final and at Worlds, I think we’ll see an increased level.
I’ve recently read interviews with Moskvina and Boikova/Kozlovskii, and they’re taking this season to work on quads, twist, and throws. They say, and I cite, “It’s a sport, not a health group. Proceeding from an injury is wrong. Forbid Malinin to jump the quadruple axel in this case. Athletes should be motivated to do something new and push pair skating forward as a sport.” Do you agree?
Meagan Duhamel: I agree, and I’ve always agreed. I saw those interviews, and I’m hoping that when those Moskvina teams return to international competition, they’ll bring big tricks, dynamic moves, quads, and big elements. The problem is that when we were doing the throw quad, the ISU lowered its the base value. So, like, it’s not even worth it to do it. It’s crazy that a single skater will get rewarded with 10 points for their quad salchows, but a pair skater now will get 6 or 7. It doesn’t make sense. It’s unfortunate that the ISU or whoever in the technical committee made that decision. Doing things such as throw quads and quad twists is that difficult, it should be rewarded. It doesn’t matter if it’s a throw quad or quad twist, a difficult jump combination, or whatever you use to stand out in pair skating; it should be rewarded. What the ISU did with the quads’ base values was extremely unfair. It’s not right. I don’t know where they made that guess that that’s what the value is. I mean, they could have asked me, “Ok, you’ve done a throw triple sal and a throw quad sal, how much more difficult is the quad?” The ISU is saying that a throw quad sal is something like 3 points more difficult than a throw triple sal. I don’t think so. It’s like ten times more difficult. So I wished they would have done a little bit more thorough research when changing those base values.
Well, they say they worry about athletes’ health.
Meagan Duhamel: Yes, and you know what, I’m all for skaters’ health! But perhaps they should have come and done a scientific study on the people who performed consistent quads? I’m the only person in the last ten years who has consistently performed a quad throw and didn’t get injured. So if they would have done some scientific research, they would have seen that the force on my body landing a triple and a quad was the same. They didn’t come and do that research.
I was just about to ask you about that. What is your secret to being able to learn quads and not getting injured?
Meagan Duhamel: You know, we didn’t do too many every day, that was the key. Sometimes we could only try two or three. We never went and did like twenty throw quads in one day. We did just a few. Then, once I was able to do it consistently, we would warm up with a throw triple, and in a training run-through, we would do the quad, and if I landed it really well, we wouldn’t do another one. There was no point. And if something was wrong and we needed to correct it, we would correct it with the triple, then go back to the quad.
My coach Richard Gauthier, when I told him I wanted to do a throw quad, told me, “No. You gonna break your leg. Every girl who does that breaks her legs; they get injured.” And I told him, “No, I won’t. I’m strong, and when I’m rotating in the air, I know my body awareness.” I’m not going to lie; I took some hard falls. I fell a lot while learning quad throw, and my bum was sore a lot. I had many bruises on my bum, but that’s not an injury. But I’m naturally quite muscular; my body has that strength. And I took care of my body, eating well and recovering at the end of the day, not doing too many of something and mentally preparing for the throw quad every time. You can’t take a chance that you’re only 50% there mentally. I had to be 100% mentally strong every time I took off for that throw quad. Otherwise, I would get hurt.
So yes, it was a big process, but we were very strict with it, and we did it without being injured. Nobody from the ISU cared to ask us about that. They just decided that it was too dangerous. Well, for some people it is, and I always say if I did a quad twist, that would be dangerous for me. It would be unsafe for me to do a quad twist. It’s up to the skater and the coaches to decide what’s safe for them and what’s not. Imagine telling Usain Bolt, “Oh, you can’t run so fast, you might get injured.” There’s no limit on that – as fast as you can go, as much as you can do. Yes, it’s unfortunate what the ISU did with those base values.
Not many skaters want to try pair skating; it’s hard, scary, and dangerous. What was your inspiration to switch to pairs, although you were a solid single skater?
Meagan Duhamel: We have this issue a lot in Canada where people aren’t too interested in doing pairs or they think I’m too good at singles. I try to tell as many people as possible. The problem is that everybody has different coaches. Our culture of skating in Canada is very different than in Russia, China, or even in Europe. Our federation will never go and tell you, “Oh, you should skate with this person. You should skate pairs. This is the team, and this is your coach.” No, no, no, our federation would never do that. You have to go and find your own partner. And you have to be lucky enough that that person wants to have the same coach that you want and live in the same city that you want. This is our big problem that I can speak of in Canada. That might be a really good person in Vancouver and a really good person in Toronto, and they would be a perfect match, but neither one of them wants to move. Then nobody tells them, our federation officials, they don’t take aggressive stands on that. It’s not in our skating culture to do that. So that’s our problem here.
To be continued in part 2: “One thing I’ve learned as an athlete, and one thing I try to tell people, is a happy athlete is a successful athlete.” Interview with Meagan Duhamel
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Megan is absolutely right. We hear the same music over and over by many figure skaters. There needs to be more original programs.