After putting his figure skating career on ice, a Winnipeg-born athlete has come out of retirement in hopes of snagging a spot on Canada’s Olympic team.
Eric Radford won two world championships and three Olympic medals before retiring in 2018. At 36, he says he thought he was done competing, but a new partnership has inspired him to lace up his skates again.
Radford has teamed up with Vanessa James to try for one of Canada’s two Olympic quota spots for pairs skating.
James is a European champion and world championship medallist who formerly competed for France but was born in Scarborough, Ont. The pair met while filming Battle of the Blades in Toronto last November.
Radford says training with James let him explore an artistic side of his skating that he hadn’t tapped into before, inspiring him him to take a shot at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“With Vanessa, it was kind of like this door opened that I didn’t even realize was there,” he told Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.
“It’s just so exciting and unexpected. That’s really at the heart of it, the reason that I want to pursue this comeback.”
The pair began training together officially in March in Montreal. James had also retired after her skating partner, Morgan Cipres, was accused of sexual assault and left the sport in 2020. Cipres has since been charged with a felony in his training state of Florida.
Left without a partner, James says she thought her chances of competing in the 2022 Olympics were done.
“It didn’t end the way I wanted it to,” James told CBC News in April. “I still felt I had something to give to skating, like unfinished business.”
Radford says he knows his age makes him an unlikely competitor. If he qualifies, he’ll be 37 by the time the Olympics begin.
However, he says, he thinks his age and experience have given him a deeper awareness of who he is as an athlete.
“I feel like I know my body a lot more,” he said. “I know what it’s capable of, I know how to deal with the stress of training, and I just feel a lot more prepared overall.”
Training during a pandemic adds another layer of challenges. They had to put in a special request to get access to a rink to skate on, and wear masks while doing so, “which is is actually quite different,” Radford said.
“You know, it kind of blocks your field of view a little bit, and changes the way that you feel when you breathe or when you’re breathing deeply,” he said.
I feel like I know my body a lot more. I know what it’s capable of, I know how to deal with the stress of training, and I just feel a lot more prepared overall.– Eric Radford
“So it’s nothing major. There’s just like little things that we have to do daily to make sure that everything goes smoothly in training.”
Radford previously competed with Meagan Duhamel, with whom he won two world titles, three Olympic medals and seven national titles.
After it became public in April that Radford was pairing up with James to pursue an Olympic run, Duhamel took to Twitter to respond, saying she felt blindsided.
🤷♀️ <a href=”https://t.co/hbU0d1UWcK”>pic.twitter.com/hbU0d1UWcK</a>
Radford says he didn’t know for sure that he was going to be able to compete with James until a few weeks ago, as she was still waiting to see whether she would be released from her obligations with France.
“Once I found out that Vanessa and I were going to be able to pursue this, I talked to Megan the same day that I found out,” he said.
“This is something that developed very quickly. I also had zero expectations. It was really just more for fun in the very beginning.”