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Vanessa James makes shock return to figure skating

Shock return: Vanessa James, bottom right, pictured winning bronze at the World Championships in 2017, has partnered with Eric Radford, top centre, a gold medal-winner at the same event

Vanessa James is determined to fulfil her dream of winning an Olympic medal after making a sensational return to figure skating.

The Bermudian looked to have stepped away from the sport for good after her retirement last year amid sexual-abuse allegations against her former pairs partner, Morgan Ciprès. The 29-year-old allegedly sent lewd photographs to an underage girl on Instagram. He has since been charged with a felony in his training state of Florida.

However, James, the 33-year-old European champion and world championship bronze medal-winner, has announced a surprising return to the rink where she will partner Eric Radford, a two-times world champion and three-times Olympic medal-winner who has also stepped out of retirement.

The pair will represent Canada and, while the immediate focus will be to compete as much as possible and form a strong bond on the ice, the ultimate goal will be to challenge for an Olympic medal at the Winter Games next year in Beijing, China, from February 4 to 20.

"Our goal is obviously to go to the Olympics," James told Canadian media. "It's a goal, a dream for us to get to the Olympics. Hopefully, an Olympic medal. But it's a process, so we're going to take it a step at a time."

Having met in Toronto last November while filming for television show Battle of the Blades, the pair shared practice sessions while rehearsing. This eventually led to Radford inviting James to Montreal to further test any potential for future show partnerships.

It proved a natural chemistry on the ice, which blossomed quicker than either anticipated, with the pair officially practising as a team in March.

"This has never been done before," added James, alluding to the obvious challenges that will face the newly formed pair. “We've seen comebacks with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Aljona Savchenko many times, Tatiana Volosozhar and Max Trenko, but never in the year of an Olympics and never with a completely different partner.

"It's not going to be an easy task, but we're ready for the challenge."

Having been born in Scarborough, Ontario, and thus gaining clearance to represent the country through her Canadian passport; the only potential stumbling block in place was James being released by the French Figure Skating Federation. She competed for the nation for more than a decade, becoming an official citizen in 2009.

Having originally partnered with French skater Yannick Bonheur, she teamed up with Ciprès in 2010 and went on to win six French national titles, a 2019 European title, and a 2018 world bronze medal as well as clinching fifth place at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

However, the successful partnership was rocked last year when Ciprès suddenly retired from the sport amid the allegations of sexual abuse.

The situation caught James off guard, leaving her without a partner just two years away from potentially her final Winter Olympics and ultimately little other choice but to also confirm her retirement.

“I thought this is it, I'm done,” added James, who didn’t consider finding a new partner. She instead switched her immediate focus to shows and coaching. “It didn't end the way I wanted it to. I still felt I had something to give to skating, like unfinished business.“

Thankfully for James, the French federation opted to conclude the complicated matter and released her in only a matter weeks, freeing her to prolong her competitive career with another nation.

“They know this is an amazing opportunity for me, for Canada, and that I brought a lot to the federation,” James said. “I think they're happy to see me continue even though it's for another flag or for another country. France will always be close to my heart.”

With one issue resolved, James and Radford find themselves facing another obstacle in their aspirations to compete at the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro alongside Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud secured Canada’s two Olympic quota spots in the pairs event last month at the world championships and were highly expected to be chosen to represent the nation in Beijing.

Moore-Towers and Marinaro remain the top-ranked Canadian team at present and thus their spot should remain relatively safe. However, James and Radford’s unexpected return will create questions over the remaining place.

While their focus remains on securing selection, James is not getting carried away just yet. The pair are set to debut at a provincial event in Quebec in August, before embarking on senior B competitions and the grand-prix circuit. The national championships in January will serve ultimately as the Olympic selection decider.

“We don't know what's going to happen on the way, any surprise could come up,” James added. “It could be injury, it could be we're not as good as we think we will be.

“But it’s definitely a goal and dream for us to get to the Olympics and, hopefully, an Olympic medal.”

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Published April 23, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 22, 2021 at 7:50 pm)

Vanessa James makes shock return to figure skating

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