BARCELONA: Canada’s Eric Radford admitted that he was skating with a new-found freedom as he and pairs partner Meagan Duhamel surged to the lead after the short program at the ISU Grand Prix final on Thursday (Friday in Manila).
Radford, 29, was performing in Barcelona just days after coming out as gay.
And the pair drew gasps from the audience for their fluid and acrobatic display as they led Olympic silver medallists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by 2.17 points going into Saturday’s free skating final.
The Canadians spoilt what would have been a dream opening day for Russia who dominated the women’s event on the first day of competition with Elizaveta Tuktamysheva leading the way ahead of three countrywomen — Julia Lipnitskaya, Elena Radionova and Anna Pogorilaya — in the six-woman field.
“The support I’ve received since (coming out) has been phenomenal and overwhelming,” said Radford.
“I’ve received numerous messages from athletes and young people saying it has made a difference. I would have killed for that when I was young.
“I know that my message is getting out there so it feels great.”
Radford said that in the past he and Duhamel had put enormous pressure on themselves, particularly in the run up to the Sochi Olympics where they finished seventh in the individual event but won silver in the team event with Canada.
“In the summer we began to feel this lightness in our skating. It just happened. There’s more freedom in our skating, less tension, less a look of fear,” he said.
The two-time world bronze medallists nailed all their elements to the music ‘Un peu plus haut’ by Ginette Reno to score 74.50 points in Barcelona’s International Conventions Center.
It puts the Montreal-based pair on track for a first podium finish at the Grand Prix final on their fourth attempt, with Radford adding that they were also confident of landing a quadruple throw in the free skate.
“We came here with the goal to stand on the podium in the Grand Prix final and we’ve taken a big step towards that,” said Duhamel, 29.
“We want to feel after the long program as we do today.”
Stolbova, 22, and Klimov, 24, who also won the Olympic team gold in Sochi and the world silver medal last season, are competing in their first Grand Prix final.
But their Chinese-themed routine to the music of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ proved less of a hit with the judges and the audience, earning them 72.33.
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, one of three Chinese pairs in the field, are sitting third with 66.66.
Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti, 33, and Alexander Smirnov, 30, are bottom after she fell twice as the two-time world bronze medallists make their comeback this season after missing the Olympic season through injury.
In the women’s competition, Tuktamysheva, gave a near-flawless performance to Ravel’s Bolero which included an opening triple-triple toeloop combination, triple lutz and double axel.
“I was glad I was able to push through,” said Tuktamysheva. “I felt sick before I came but I walked around Barcelona today, it’s a great city, and that helped me.”
The 18-year-old scored 67.57 to put her slightly ahead of Lipnitskaya (66.24) who had a minor error on her triple flip in her program to ‘Megapolis’ by Bel Suono.
Radionova the only woman to come to Barcelona with gold in both her Grand Prix assignments fell on a triple loop in Spanish-themed skate to Pepe Romero’s ‘De mi vera te fuistes’ to trail on 63.89.
“Maybe I was nervous, maybe I was tired,” the 15-year-old said. “I just want to improve in the free skating.”
Japan’s Rika Hongo is fifth 61.10, ahead of American Ashley Wagner, who scored 60.24, after errors in her skate to ‘Spartacus’ after stepping out of her opening triple-triple combination.
The competition continues on Friday with Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan opening his title defence, faced with the challenge of home hope Javier Fernandez.