Winnipeg-born figure skater Eric Radford is coming out of retirement to attempt something that's never been done.
Radford, 36, a two-time world champion and three-time Olympic medallist who retired in 2018 with his longtime partner Meagan Duhamel, announced last week he will be returning to competitive skating and partnering up with 33-year-old Vanessa James of Scarborough, Ont. The pair hopes to represent Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
While most teammates are attached to each other's hip for years before making it to the world's biggest stage, Radford and James, who've only been working together in Montreal since last month, will have less than a year to prepare for nationals in January and earn the right to be one of Canada's two pairs that qualify for Beijing.
"It's never been done. I think we're the first ones to ever attempt it and we'll be the first to ever accomplish it. I do believe in us a lot," said James in a Zoom interview.
"It's never been done. I think we're the first ones to ever attempt it and we'll be the first to ever accomplish it. I do believe in us a lot." – Vanessa James
"The only thing I'd say that's an obstacle is figuring out how each other compete and making sure we work together to make sure we're both comfortable and in the zone when competition comes… It hasn't been done. We've seen people come back, but as a team or as a team that's already accomplished quite a bit (together), but we'll be the first and why not? We're gonna go for it."
Radford doesn't have anything left to prove. After winning a silver medal in the team event in 2014 in Sochi, Radford captured a gold in the same event in 2018 Pyeongchang and a bronze in pairs with Duhamel. But he was intrigued after rehearsing with James in Toronto last November during the filming of Battle of the Blades. Radford and James felt they had something special together, so they took it one step further and met up in Montreal a few weeks later to hit the ice again. They originally thought their chemistry could lead to a show-partnership, but ultimately Radford and James decided to take the plunge and return to elite competition. Radford and James are both living in Montreal and being coached by Julie Marcotte and Ian Connolly.
"For me, it really comes down to the way I feel when I'm skating with Vanessa. I feel Meagan and I were able to create incredible moments on the ice in one capacity and I always wanted to be able to explore a different side of my own skating and I feel I'm able to do that with Vanessa. At a very base level, that's what it comes down to," said Radford.
"I think both of us are very well accomplished. I have more medals than I ever could've hoped for in my skating career. That's not going to be the driving force behind this team… Of course, we want to be competitive and do our best, but I think it's going to be more of an exploration type of journey than it is a results-driven journey."
Duhamel took to Twitter on April 21 to share her disappointment in Radford's return. Duhamel said she was "blindsided" by the announcement and claims the two had a verbal agreement to perform at skate shows together for as long as possible.
"Of course, we want to be competitive and do our best, but I think it's going to be more of an exploration type of journey than it is a results–driven journey." – Eric Radford
"I was not asked if I'd be interested in a comeback nor was I notified that Eric was considering a comeback. Even if I had no intention of returning, I think a chat with me BEFOREHAND would have been respectful, wrote the 35-year-old Duhamel, who also lives in Montreal.
"The professional skating career that Eric and I worked so hard for has now come to an abrupt end and that breaks my heart and hurts me so deeply. I wish Eric happiness in his new adventures."
Radford was asked for his reaction to Duhamel's criticism.
"Overall, I'm just really sad things ended up the way they did between Meagan and I. I have nothing but respect for her," he said.
"She turned me into a competitor and a skater. She was a big part of the skater I became. She taught me so much on so many different facets of skating, how to take care of my body, how to listen to my body, also, how to be a fierce competitor and I'm going to take all of my experience and everything I learned from Meagan into the future."
James competed for France with partner Morgan Cipres for 10 years. In addition to six French national titles, the duo won a European championship, a 2018 world bronze medal and finished in fifth place in 2018 Pyeongchang. But their impressive run was forced to come to an end last September when Cipres retired from skating amid sexual-abuse allegations. In December, he was charged with a third-degree felony for the transmission of material harmful to a minor by electronic device. Cipres's situation left James without a partner at the last minute, forcing her to retire as well. When the opportunity with Radford came up, the French Figure Skating Federation moved quickly to grant James her release so she could represent Canada.
"I felt like I had unfinished business. I felt I still had something to give to the sport, lots of creativity and things like that. But I definitely wasn't thinking I'd have another opportunity to compete… But then this opportunity arose with Eric and I thought it was the moment I had to seize," James said.
Radford and James don't have much time to focus on their former partners. They have seven or eight competitions this year, giving them a chance to work out the kinks before they need to have a perfect skate in January.
"It really comes down to the belief that Vanessa and I have in our ability to mesh probably on the fastest level we've ever seen before," Radford said.
"I think that in the last month, we've been skating for about a month now, every day, we've seen incredible improvement… Trying to attain that goal of two skaters skating as one, it's happening so fast. Because it's happening so fast it's like a positive feedback loop where it makes us believe more and more that we can actually do this as more time goes by."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.