A MISSED OP­POR­TU­NITY SPARKED GOLDEN MO­MENT

Sil­ver didn’t sit so well four years ago, so or­ga­niz­ers and ath­letes hatched a plan

Ottawa Citizen - - WINTER OLYMPICS - CHRISTIE BLATCH­FORD cblatch­ford@post­media.com

They are the team that didn’t need to be led, but led they were, by pride and drive, ad­ver­sity and a shared com­mon goal — that of world dom­i­na­tion — and, oh yes, love.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Pa­trick Chan, Eric Rad­ford and Mea­gan Duhamel, Gabby Dale­man, Kaet­lyn Os­mond, all on stage in a sin­gle room on the day they won the team fig­ure-skat­ing gold: They look like skaters, but they sounded like hockey play­ers, grate­ful and cere­bral.

Rad­ford spoke of “lit­tle small mo­ments,” the way Moir met his eyes and gave a nod just af­ter the an­nouncer had called his and Duhamel’s names and they went off to com­pete, or how he took his roomie Chan aside, af­ter he’d had a cou­ple of tough prac­tices, and told him, “You don’t owe any­body any­thing. You go out there for your­self. We love you, we’re gonna sup­port you.”

Af­ter the team event made its de­but four years ago at Sochi, and the Cana­di­ans fin­ished sec­ond, Moir and Duhamel, in par­tic­u­lar, felt a nag­ging sense of some­thing hav­ing slipped be­tween their fin­gers.

Mike Slipchuck, the for­mer skater who is now the high­per­for­mance di­rec­tor for Skate Canada, was feel­ing the same way. The three of them hatched the plot for world supremacy.

As Duhamel put it, “This was the plan. We made this plan … maybe we didn’t plan our team prop­erly four years ago. I mean, sil­ver was great but we missed the op­por­tu­nity for gold. And there’s noth­ing worse than that lit­tle bit of dis­ap­point­ment.

“And it was de­cided we were go­ing to put the best team for­ward for this gold medal, which meant that Eric and I had to com­pete four times in one week (in the reg­u­lar pairs), and Pa­trick had to com­pete four times in a week and a half (in the com­ing sin­gles event). We didn’t want to take any chances.

“Ev­ery­one was on the same page. We were taking this se­ri­ously.”

Never be­fore have Duhamel and Rad­ford had to com­pete so much in such a short time.

But, as she said, “you come to the Olympics in the best shape of your life — men­tally, phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally. You’re on top of your game, and when you’re given the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete at the Olympics, you com­pete as much as pos­si­ble, be­cause it won’t hap­pen again, for me.”

She and Rad­ford, like Virtue and Moir and Chan, are re­tir­ing af­ter these Games.

Duhamel and Rad­ford nailed first. Chan strug­gled through a tough short pro­gram, but turned in a su­perb long one to grab an­other first place and the big points which go with it. Os­mond, in the short, and Dale­man, in the long, got a third, and be­fore Virtue and Moir even got on the ice, the team had enough points that the reign­ing world dance cou­ple prac­ti­cally could have stayed on the couch eat­ing bon­bons and Canada still would have got the gold.

In­stead, of course, they put on the usual mag­nif­i­cent show.

Skat­ing is usu­ally a sport of in­di­vid­u­als, at most two in­di­vid­u­als work­ing as a cou­ple. With the kiss-and-cry, glit­tery cos­tumes and makeup, the stuffed toys fans throw on the ice, it can also ap­pear a lit­tle flaky.

Yet skaters are as tough as any ath­lete, and as ca­pa­ble of self­less­ness. Now, it’s just eas­ier to rec­og­nize.

From their dis­parate lit­tle towns and with their dif­fer­ent sto­ries and chal­lenges, these seven be­came a gold medal team.

Rad­ford’s jour­ney from Balmer­town — a dot of about 1,000 peo­ple on the map of north­west­ern On­tario and a huge drive from Thun­der Bay in one di­rec­tion and Win­nipeg in an­other — is not a bad metaphor.

He stayed there un­til he was 13, where­upon he moved, for his skat­ing, to Kenora, which blew him away with its won­drous size and bright lights.

“I was like, ‘There’s so many more peo­ple,’ ” he said. The next year, he was off to Win­nipeg. “I re­mem­ber look­ing out the win­dow

at the sky­scrapers there,” he said. Now, when he goes back, he rec­og­nizes how small the Man­i­toba cap­i­tal re­ally is. Then it was onto Mon­treal, and the year af­ter that, Toronto.

Now he’s 33, he’s seen the world, he’s en­gaged (to a man, Span­ish skater Luis Fen­ero, he adores), and he knows what counts, what “tran­scends” he said, are the strong re­la­tion­ships.

“Who gets to go to the Olympics and stand on an Olympic podium with this group of peo­ple? It’s like one in a bil­lion odds. I think we re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate one an­other. … There’s just such a lot of love, be­tween all of us.”

LEAH HEN­NEL

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir cel­e­brate Canada’s gold medal in the team event in the Gangne­ung Ice Arena on Mon­day. Virtue and Moir, as well as Mea­gan Duhamel, Eric Rad­ford and Pa­trick Chan, are re­tir­ing from com­pet­i­tive fig­ure skat­ing af­ter the Games.

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