Sometimes everything works out exactly as you plan for, almost as if it was meant to be, a real life fairy tale. And, sometimes, you work really hard, make all the “right” choices, and fate has another plan for you, another road to take you down. In the past year, I feel like I’ve lived both of these scenarios.
Last skating season, everything seemed to fall into place the way I always dreamed of. We worked hard, prepared well, seized the moment and then we were rewarded with gold medal after gold medal after gold medal, resulting in an undefeated season. I couldn’t have dreamt it any better! This summer we planned our schedule to be a compete replica of last season. We’d do the same events, the same shows and prepare the same way, and things were bound to turn out just as good, right? Maybe we were naïve, or we pushed aside any feelings of pressure so far that we didn’t even know they existed. However, this season has been anything but smooth sailing and as we enter our final leg of training to push into the World Championships we are hoping to turn things around once and for all and end the season on a positive note.
As we prepared for this season with our choreographer, we found two pieces of music that we loved. Adele’s Hometown Glory has been my favourite song since 2008, when I went to see her in concert in Montreal. She filled a small hall with maybe 100 people. She certainly didn’t have the popularity and following she does now! Eric and I even used this song for shows many years ago and it seemed like a great fit for a long program. Our choreographer suggested “Your Song” from Moulin Rouge for our short program and we both really liked the passion of this song and agreed that it would be a good choice. We even did our short program all summer during tour in Japan, it was growing, and the audience seemed to really enjoy it, so we finished our summer feeling confident with our choices of music and choreography. Our first competition was a local event in Quebec and it was fantastic, we skated a personal best short program and long program and felt as if we were right on track to continue into the Grand Prix season.
We played around in training and in competition with a new element this season, the throw quad lutz. This summer it was on fire in training, we could land them every single training day and felt confident about adding it to our long program. However, as the competition season approached, our quad lutz AND throw triple lutz began to suffer. Our timing on each throw is different, and because we need to do a throw triple lutz in the short program, we started to experience inconsistencies on it for the first time in our career. I landed the very first throw triple lutz I ever tried back in 2004. It was never an element I had to worry about or even think of.
Suddenly, the timing on it was thrown off course and it began to rattle us. Our confidence was shaken up and it effected the throw quad lutz as well. We could still land it, but it went through phases. We’d be able to land it perfectly one day and the next day it looked like we’d never done one. This is, of course, the evolution of learning a new element, but because it started to affect our throw triple lutz, we had to set it aside temporarily. Oddly enough, once we decided to take it out of our long program, we started to land it more easily in practice. Timing is a funny thing like that. We stopped thinking about it and worrying about it and it became easier to execute. We haven’t given up on our goal of being the first pairs team ever to land a throw quad lutz, but for the time being, it isn’t our main focus.
The Grand Prix season ended up being up and down. We failed to skate our short program cleanly in any event, but we did achieve some great, but not perfect, long programs. We had been training so great at home going into our competitions but we unfortunately failed to bring that consistency to our performances.
Going into the National Championships we tried to focus a lot on the short program, we made some chorographical changes and I even changed my dress to try to refresh the energy of the program. We did a big simulation at our training centre and we preformed one of our best short programs ever, so we were confident that the changes we made were for the better and that we were on our way to a successful second half of the season. Sadly, at the National Championships our short program failed us once again. I did an uncharacteristic double lutz, fumbled on the throw and stumbled during the choreography. That night was one of the lowest points of my skating career in many, many years. I cried, soul searched and cried some more. I felt frustrated and I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to skate great in competition when the previous year it had felt so easy. I don’t remember the last time figure skating made me feel such a low. Of course, we have had “bad” skates over the years but I’m generally very optimistic and I made a vow with myself after not qualifying for the 2010 Olympics that I would never cry over skating again, that I would appreciate and love every moment. But now, I felt like I was at my wits end and frustration had built so much that it all came out that night.
Of course, I didn’t have much time to sulk about it, as we had to compete the long program the following day. I tried to focus on what it was that made me successful and happy in the past, and the one word that kept coming to mind was “Fight”. I had to go out there and fight. I had to make it happen because no one was going to do it for me. Our long program was very successful, not perfect, as we each stumbled on the landing on our side-by-side jumps, but we fought and we completed everything. The energy wasn’t what we were looking for, therefore we felt the crowd was disconnected from us, but it was still a step into the right direction. We decided that we would go home and rework the energy of our programs, as well as our mental approach technically, and start fresh as we moved towards the Four Continents and World Championships.
When we got home from the Nationals, we had a long talk with our choreographer about what we needed to do with our skating to bring it out of this “slump” and into the level that we knew we could achieve. First, we needed to change our mental approach. We needed to focus more on ourselves and doing each element every single day with the intention of making it the very best that we could. We couldn’t be happy with mediocracy, we had to excel. Secondly, the energy of our long program. Last year we used such strong music from Muse and this year we chose a different type of music. It is more subtle and less in your face, but that didn’t mean we had to skate with less energy. We adjusted some choreography points, energy focus and changed the music slightly, and we looked forward to competing in Taiwan at the Four Continents. Going into Taiwan I felt excited for the first time all season. We had done the right work and we were prepared for the moment. We knew we were on our way back to the top of the skating World and couldn’t wait to showcase that.
We arrived in Taiwan and practices were going amazingly well. We were right where we wanted to be and it felt so good. Our twist was popping higher, the quad sal was landing smoother than ever, our side-by-side jumps were flying and we felt an ease, flow and connection to each other and to our programs that we hadn’t been feeling all year. Then, I woke up the morning of the short program and something didn’t feel right. We practiced, and it went very, very well and then I went back to my room to sleep off this groggy, achy feeling. Sadly, when I woke up, I started to be sick to my stomach and I knew this short program was going to be a challenge. I arrived at the rink for the short program and I could barely move, I was freezing cold and I was vomiting in the change room. The long program was two days away, and assuming that I was going to feel better for the long program, my coaches and Eric and I decided that we should push through the short program so that I could still compete the long program.
I remember feeling so lost in my starting position for the short, wondering if I was going to make it through or if I’d get sick in the middle of the pair spin. I tried to turn off my brain (as overthinking is a big problem of mine), and just went for it. The program ended quite well, considering how I felt, but I knew it wasn’t what we had worked so hard to show. I was like a zombie out there, with no emotion, expression or connection to Eric or the music. As sick as I was, I knew a score of 71 was not good and that we went there to get a 78 and it really frustrated me that something so out of my control happened to throw us off course, once again.
I spent the two days going into the long program in my hotel room, going from the uncomfortable bed to the bathroom. I didn’t eat anything and felt so weak, but the morning of the long program I went to practice hoping that pure will power could get me through. I even tried to mentally tell myself that this was the Olympics and I had to push through, but even that didn’t help me much. I guess it was ridiculous for me to even imagine doing a long program, but I have never quit on anything my entire life and I refused to believe that I would “quit” and withdraw from the competition. However, during the practice session it took me only 5 minutes to realize that I didn’t have it in me to compete. I could barely do our basic stroking exercises and a double toe was a struggle. I had no strength and I was still sick to my stomach. I had to remind myself that I was not “quitting” by withdrawing from the event, that my body was ill and needed time to rest. See, I’m not used to being sick. This was the first time I’ve been sick in about 5 years and I didn’t really know how to deal with it. I went back to my hotel room and stayed there another two days as I tried to recover and gain my strength back. It was a pure nightmare in that hotel room in Taiwan and I hope I never have to experience something like that again!
I am home now and feeling back to 100%. When I look back on this season so far, I see so much adversity, and so much lessons. The thing is… everyone loves it when things work out, and the pressure is on and you skate the best performance of your ability. Those moments are great, and they fill your heart with pride and joy, but they don’t really teach you anything. You learn more from the struggles, from the failures. That’s where the lessons are hidden, that help you learn and give you the strength to live those amazing moments. The World Championships is in one month, and we haven’t given up hope that we can still defend our World title.
We will be back at the drawing board, working hard and improving as we aim towards greatness in Boston. However, when I close my eyes, and imagine skating at the World Championships in Boston, I see us hitting our ending position of the short and long program and feeling proud. Feeling proud of our effort, feeling proud of our growth, feeling proud of our entire season and feeling proud of each other. If we can feel like this, we will feel golden, whether we are awarded with the gold medal or not.
As my friend and training mate reminded me not too long ago ….