The season officially started last weekend with the Autumn Classic International in Montreal. It’s odd to say this, but it was everything I hoped it would be, and my worst nightmare, all at the same time.
Our preparation for this event was great. We had our High Performance Camp two weeks prior to this competition, where we preformed a great short program for a panel of judges and technical specialists and a terrible long program. The feedback was very positive, and since we didn’t need to make any major changes, we returned home and pretty much did “long program boot camp”. We started obsessively working on the long program. We worked on it with our coaching team of technical experts, with our choreographer, with Igor, a new addition to our team added to work on skating skills, and we even ran it from beginning to end one Friday, alone, when all our coaches were gone. We put in all the necessary work for it to be successful at Autumn Classic, but to be fair, we weren’t exactly running clean long programs. We’d constantly be making mistakes and trying to figure out where we went wrong. When we train, each element on it’s own is probably at the highest percentage of consistency we’ve had in years. We could run sections of the long program cleanly also, but once we pieced it all together, it wasn’t adding up correctly. We figured mileage was the problem, so we continued pushing through and putting in the hours.
After already competing our short program this summer, plus our successful short program at the high performance camp, we were very confident that we could compete a clean short program this early in the season. It actually wasn’t a matter of skating a clean program, but how smooth could it be? How much plus 3’s could we achieve on each element? How much emotion could we put into the program, with the stress of a competition environment? We were ready, both physically and mentally and we nailed it, with one of our best short programs in competition. It was an incredible feeling when we finished that short program, because it was the first time since the 2016 World Championships that I truly felt like we belonged at the top of pairs figure skating in the World. I felt like we were back. The past year and a half has been such a huge struggle, it was truly beautiful to feel the weight of the World off my shoulders at that moment.
We enjoyed the moment on Friday night, appreciating all the positive feedback from officials and then I had a great night of sleep. I was already feeling so positive for the long program, confident that the work we did was going to pay off.
The morning of the long program we had a great practice. Everything felt light and easy as we did each element in isolation and ran through the choreography of the program.
As I got into my starting position, I had faith that we finally had enough mileage on the program, and we could get out a good skate. But after each element unraveled, I became more and more confused and frustrated. I don’t remember the last time I fell THREE times in a competition. Not only did I fall 3 times, but both my triple jumps were downgraded and received pretty much NO credit at all. Where we can normally get 15 points for our two jumping passes, we got 2. Then there was the throw quad fall, the 3 point fall deduction and the mess of a program that we were left with. My coaching team, some officials and I sat in the kiss and cry feeling completely lost. What was causing all of these problems every time we skated a long program?
After hours of sitting and discussing with our coaches, choreographers and officials, we came up with a few options. I burst into tears when I opened my mouth to say “I think we simply need a new long, this one isn’t working”. It broke my heart in that moment, because I know how much we all love Muse. But I was trying to problem solve, to find answers, and I couldn’t find any other possible solution.
We were on our way the following day to Italy for Opera on Ice, and we had already planned to bring our choreographer Julie with us to Italy, so she could train us while we were there, between rehearsals and shows. In a panic, Eric called our other choreographer John Kerr, asking him to come to Italy with us and help us create a new long program. But I think we were all making decisions based on our emotions and not on actual facts. Was the Muse program the right program for us at the Olympics? Yes, absolutely. Do we love this program? Absolutely. Can we work around our problems and make it work, like we have in the past? Absolutely.
The one major solution was to change the order of elements, back to the way they were laid out in 2014/2015, in the original Muse. When we were recreating Muse 2.0 we felt the need to make so many changes. We didn’t want it to look anything like the original one. I wanted to put the throw quad later, on the slow part, because for years we had gone twist, triple lutz, throw quad, and I simply wanted to do something different. But the truth was, it didn’t work. I am strong, but I am not strong enough to comfortably land a quad as my 5th element in the long program. On top of it, the preparation was so quick between all the elements in the first half, I always felt a panic rush. When I fell on my triple lutz at Autumn Classic, I didn’t have a moment to reset myself, because the next jump came so quickly I was scrambling to catch up with Eric on the choreography, then directly to a lift and transitions, one step and then throw quad. It was all so hazy to me. And if one thing went wrong, there was no “reset” moment.
So what we’ve realized since reshuffling the elements and some choreography with Julie this week, is that there was a lot of good in Muse 1.0. We could do some of that program even better now, because we are simply a better team. But it didn’t need to necessarily be changed.
I do have a lot of work ahead of me, on my mental side, because I do feel partly traumatized by my long program performance at Autumn Classic, but I’ll work on that. I’ve been down this road before, and I’ve always found my way out of it.
This seems like such a long winded post, but I actually find it kind of therapeutic to write about it, let it out there into the Universe and set it all free. I’ve learned that each situation is what it needs to be, and we can’t force anything. If we learn and grow from each experience, then there is no bad experience or bad moment.
The Grand Prix season will start soon, and I still have faith that we can achieve a long program that is on the same level as our short program. Nothing is over yet, we just needed to readjust our plan and move forward. Onwards and upwards.