I’ve just returned from my 18th National Championships. It was a whirlwind of energy and emotions this past weekend in Vancouver, for myself and for my friends and teammates and I feel completely emotionally drained. A much needed day off of yoga, a massage and vegan chocolate cake is awaiting me!
The past month to prepare for this competition have been intense. After the Grand Prix Final, Eric and I went to perform in shows in Beijing, with absolutely no intention of changing our long program. We had just won bronze at the Grand Prix Final, and we were feeling pleased with our progression and improvements over the season. But a moment during the dress rehearsal of that show in Beijing changed everything for us. We were due to skate following Ekaterina Gordeeva, whom was performing to Adele’s “Hometown Glory”. As I stood behind the curtain, waiting my turn to skate, I heard that music for the first time in over a year. Immediately I closed my eyes and tears formed, as my stomach settled and I just imagined skating to this soothing piece of music. That was it. That was how I wanted to feel when I skated at the Olympics. I felt it in my gut.
We finished our dress rehearsal and I approached Eric about how I felt. He told me that he had the exact same feeling and the thought passed his mind about skating to Hometown Glory again. We both loved our Muse long program, and we spent countless hours and thousands of dollars trying to make the program “click” and sparkle, but we never quite got emotionally invested in it. Muse was exciting and fun, and it provided us great memories of our past, but even when we skated it well, it didn’t leave us feeling inspired. We were constantly chasing the music and chasing each other; there was no ease. We felt like we were so connected to our short program this season, and the long program was falling flat in comparison. What if we went back to Adele? Did we have enough time? We’ve never changed programs in the middle of a season before, EVER. Last year I suggested that we changed our short program after the Four Continents, it was feeling like a struggle and we weren’t connecting to it, but at the time, Eric and our team didn’t think we had time to create a new program before Worlds. How was I going to convince everyone to change our long program less then a month before Nationals? I was ready to fight it. I trusted my gut so much and that moment behind that curtain in Beijing was so strong, I knew this was the only answer. On a little side note, my gut had already told me to do this, back in September, after our terrible performance at the Autumn Classic. I suggested to our team that evening, that I felt like we needed to change Muse to Adele; that maybe we had gone back to the wrong program. But everyone assured me that I was making a rash decision in the heat of a very emotional moment. But I have to be honest, it’s been in the back of my mind since then.
Luckily, I didn’t have to fight anything. Eric thought it was the right thing to do, so we got directly on the ice and started playing around with our old Hometown Glory free skate.
The decision felt special, because it came from Eric and I. We were not influenced by any outside sources when we made this decision. So instead of asking our coach and choreographer what they thought about it, I simply fired a text to our coach and choreographer saying “Eric and I have talked and we’ve decided to go back to Hometown Glory for our free skate. We will be more emotionally connected to this music and it feels right in our hearts”.
And that was that. We made the decision and we got to work and we never looked back. We decided to keep the news to ourselves, to our inner circle, as we prepared for the Canadian Championships. We had enough work to do that we didn’t need any external chatter about it. We decided that we would show up at Nationals and on the first practice we would skate our long program, and everyone could find out then about our program change.
Going back to the program was both easy and difficult. It was easy because the emotion and style of the program comes very naturally to us. The pacing of the program is soothing and the choreographic nuances came back to us quite quickly. But a lot had changed in our skating since we last used this program in the Spring of 2016. Some elements changed, including which jumps we were doing, and which death spiral we were ending the program with. Choreography details needed to be adjusted and upgraded but our choreographer was gone to Japan for Japanese Nationals when Eric and I returned home from China to really get to work on the program, so a lot of things got put on hold for another week, as we waited for Julie to return. I also got new skates during this time. I don’t really know why I thought this was a good idea, with everything that we were already throwing on our plates, but I felt so calm that the new skates didn’t rattle me and I adjusted quickly enough that it was easy to compete in them so fast.
So here we were, leaving to our last Nationals. Our final chance to qualify for our second Olympic Team, with a new long program. We brought in one judge, included him in our little bubble about the program change, and got feedback on the program, and off we went to Vancouver.
It was an emotional week, knowing it would be our final Nationals as competitors. We also never take our competition lightly, and we knew the other pair teams would show up fighting and we had to be in top shape if we wanted to win our 7th National title. Practices were great and it felt good to finally let everyone know about our long program change once we started practicing in Vancouver.
All this talk about the free skate but let’s not forget the short program!! We worked really hard on that one as well. We’ve been receiving level 3 in our footwork sequence this season and we worked hard on cleaning up our turns to make sure it’s a clear level 4. We also worked a lot on the quality of our side by side triple lutzs. We landed them beautifully in the long program at the Grand Prix Final, but other then that, we’ve been receiving some deductions on the jump for a two footed landing. We know that we have the potential to get about 7 points for the lutz jump with a strong GOE, so we wanted to focus on that as well. The day of the short program felt calm and settling. I didn’t feel particularly nervous. We train the program cleanly everyday at home so I trusted that.
We also had a special treat as April Meservy, the singer of our short program music, was in the arena to watch us perform to her music. We wanted to give her a beautiful interpretation of her music. As a whole, I think we did a great job in the short program. There were some obvious issues, once again with the landing of the triple lutz jumps and some moments where we lacked unison, but these are areas that we will continue to work on as we move forward to the Olympic Games. But we felt like the overall energy and emotion of the program was great. The crowd really embraced the program and we felt connected to the music and to each other. Scoring a personal best was a great feeling, but we know we have to clean up the lutzs and unison in order to score 81 from an international judging panel.
The long program turned out to be a bit more stressful. Practice was great, we didn’t miss any throw quad sal all week. The program was flowing and everything felt light, but one thing Eric and I were well aware of was the emotion that would happen, before we even stepped onto the ice. Our friends and teammates were all vying for a coveted Olympic spot and the action would all take place before we had to skate our long program. As Eric and I waited backstage after the warm up, I sat backstage and watched the first team skate, Lubov and Dylan. My heart sank when they finished their program disappointed in themselves. Next up was Kirsten and Mike, our training mates. They work so hard and have improved so much. I felt so nervous for them the entire skate. When they finished a great long and I saw how overcome with emotion they were, it hit me as well. In that moment I realized I had to get up and walk and stop watching the TV! I saw Eric pacing and trying to ignore everything that was happening before us and I had to start to do the same. I still had a long program to do and I was going to exhaust myself living the emotion of all these other skaters.
Eric and I went onto the ice as Julianne and Charlie received a thunderous applause. We could feel the energy building and we knew that they must have delivered an amazing performance. I was so happy for them but I tried to keep my head down and stayed focused on myself.
When the music started, I think that’s when everything inside of me settled. Then we had a wonky exit to our twist. In the short program we had a great twist but I noticed my arms a bit too wide on the catch so I tried to keep them tighter in the long program. It caused me to land a bit on my heels. You can see in the replay of our long program, I gave Eric a little laugh after that moment. I have been training extra singles sessions at home working on the quality of my jumps so I had no concern about my upcoming triple lutz; I knew I was ready for a great one. I heard our coach yell when we landed the side by side triple lutz, but I wanted to stay focused for the throw quad. We had missed it at the Grand Prix Final and worked so hard on the consistency of it between then and now. Unfortunately, we completely missed the take off and had an awkward fall. It was the first quad we missed all week. Adrenaline really changes our timing on that throw and it’s something we really need to address before the Olympics. We never take those awkward falls at home so it was disappointing for it to happen in the competition.
But in the moment I was on my butt on the ice, my mind was already at my next pass, the triple sal double toe double toe combination. I knew I needed it and there was no way I was missing another thing in this program. The jump combination had nice flow and we set back into the program comfortably. The lifts had an ease to them that we had been missing throughout the season, our throw lutz had no hesitation, just effortless flow and our spins had good speed and unison. One thing I’d like to improve on for the Olympics is my emotional energy at the end of the program. I felt like I was holding myself back a little bit, because I was worried about the death spiral at the end. Let me give you a small insight into why I’d be worried about such a “simple” move. The back outside death spiral is the most difficult one. It burns my legs so much, even when it’s done early in the program. This was the first time that we’d finish a long program in competition with that death spiral because normally we keep it early in the program, when we are fresher. I wanted to be sure I didn’t slip off my edge and that I still had strong legs under me to do a nice one, so I was really focused on that. I’ll be working on releasing some of my tension in the choreography leading into that move for the future.
Overall, when the music ended, we felt a beautiful moment. We weren’t rushing to get to the end, it was very settled, and that was exactly the feeling we had hoped this program would provide us. It was heartwarming to once again be appreciated so wonderfully by the Canadian audience. That’s a feeling I will never forget. I wish I could have said thank you to each and every member of that audience.
In 2012 Eric and I won our first National title and never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what laid ahead for us. Now we have reached title number 7 and that’s where we will leave it. Each National title has been its own special moment. And it isn’t the gold medals that we think of, but the moments when our music ended and we stood at centre ice, with our heads held high with pride, tears forming in our eyes and the audience on it’s feet. Those are the moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Thank you Canada.