Vanessa James and Eric Radford selected for Canada’s Winter Olympics squad
Vanessa James and figure-skating partner Eric Radford headlined those named to the Canada team for next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, despite withdrawing from the national championships.
Having both contracted Covid-19 over the Christmas holidays and only returning to the ice earlier last week, the duo were in fourth place after Friday’s short programme in Ottawa, before announcing their withdrawal ahead the free programme on Saturday.
A day after being forced to watch on from the stands of the TD Place Arena as Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro went on to win gold, earning one of the two pairs spots, Bermudian James, and Radford found themselves having to defend their selection, with the decision drawing anger from some quarters.
“The criteria was stated at the beginning of the season. And so, from the beginning until now, we all have the same opportunities to perform and score, and Vanessa and I posted the highest short and free programme scores internationally, we had the highest placements,” Radford said. “Sport is about what you do on the field of play within the set requirements for the season.”
Reflecting on their decision to withdraw from the national championships, Radford, who like James also stepped out of retirement to team up last year, argued neither were fully recovered to perform at their highest level.
“We think we made the best decision for us, so that we can be the best in a month when it’s the most important,” Radford added.
The Canadian championships are part, but not all, of Skate Canada’s Olympic qualifying criteria.
The criteria, written before the season started, also includes scores and results from international events throughout season, the placement at last year’s world championships, and the potential for the best finish in Beijing based on the whole season.
“Unfortunately, with all sports, in an Olympic year when you have a national championship, a lot of people assume that is the end-all and be-all in the final determining factor,” said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high-performance director.
“A national championship is always important and it’s important for athletes to be a national champion, to be a medal- winner.
“But when we did the assessment with our committee, we looked at all those factors and not one is weighted higher than the other.
“If you look at the international season, Vanessa and Eric out of all our pairs teams had the strongest scores.
“Unfortunately, with a situation largely out of one’s control, with Omicron and Covid, they just weren’t able to complete the event.
“But we look at the body of work of all athletes and we want to make the best assessment for the strongest team we feel has the best ability for us at the Games.”
The rest of the Canadian team selection proved far more straight forward, Keegan Messing and Roman Sadovsky the two entries in the men’s event after placing first and second, respectively, while Madeline Schizas, who won her first national title on Saturday, earned the one berth in women’s singles.
Reigning world bronze medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who finished eighth at their Olympic debut in 2018, secured one of the three ice dance spots a day after they won gold in Ottawa, while Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen, who won ice dance silver on Saturday, and bronze medallists Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha rounded out the other two ice dance spots.
Despite their undoubted pedigree, with James a European champion and world championship bronze medal-winner, and Radford, a two-times world champion and three-times Olympic medal-winner, some argued that silver medallists Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud were robbed of a spot on the Olympic team.
“I am disappointed in my sport today,” said Meagan Duhamel, who won two world titles with Radford. “The Canadian pairs all sucked all season. The only teams to do a strong short and strong long in the same competition were Evelyn [Walsh] and Trent [Michaud], and Kirsten [Moore-Towers] and Mike [Marinar] at Canadian Nationals. And since no pair team is a medal contender, we don’t need to pick based on potential.”
However, James, whose father Kevin is Bermudian, and lived on island until age 10 when she moved to the United States, was not deterred by the criticism.
“The season has been up and down, but it’s always been progressive, we’ve showed improvement, our scores have been consistently quite high for Canadian skating, and we are still looking forward to reaching higher points and levels and positions in our skating, comparing ourselves to the best in the world,” she said.
“We’re saddened that we couldn’t compete at this competition. We wanted to show up and try our best, show sportsmanship and give it our all, and it just didn’t happen for us for the short programme. It just solidified the fact that we are not prepared to do a great programme that we need to show before going into the Olympics.”
The Olympic figure-skating competition begins on February 4 with the team event at the Capitol Indoor Stadium.