"Once in a lifetime opportunity" - Radford, James are Canada's newest pairs team

When two-time world pairs champion Eric Radford closed the book on his competitive figure skating career in 2018, he says he walked away feeling completely fulfilled.

It was a chance skate around the rink with Vanessa James while practising for "Battle of the Blades" in 2019 that now has Radford writing another chapter.

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The 36-year-old Radford announced Wednesday that he was coming out of retirement to compete with James, a Toronto native who previously skated for France.

"I do believe that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity," James said. "I do think that we can make an impact and motivate upcoming generations to change your way of thinking. There's no age limit for success. And it's our choice, and it's our definition of success."

Radford and Meagan Duhamel won two world figure skating titles, seven national titles, plus a bronze in pairs and gold in the team event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics before announcing their retirement.

The 33-year-old James was fifth at the 2018 Olympics and captured six French titles with Morgan Cipres. She also retired after the Games, but left feeling she had unfinished business.

During a practice session for the TV show "Battle of the Blades," Radford and James decided to do a few laps around the rink together. Looking at the video after, they were surprised by how good they looked together.

Then the pandemic hit and competitive skating screeched to a halt. Radford and James decided to test out their skating partnership over a few days of practice, thinking perhaps they could do some professional shows together.

"We quickly realized that we could be very good, and that there was a lot of natural connection and matching there," Radford said. "And then that was when the idea that maybe we could compete kind of entered our minds."

"I think we both kind of felt like at the same time: 'I wish we could show everybody how good we are.'"

James said coaches, friends and family were supportive and "loved what they saw."

James said there was no guarantee she'd be released by the French federation to compete with Radford, but she received the green light on April 2.

The two, who will train in Quebec with Julie Marcotte, believe there is room for them on Canada's team next season. "We are strong technically, and it's funny, because when you saw us with our previous partners, you wouldn't think that our styles matched, but as soon as we got together, the lines were the same, our skating styles were the same, the way we did our crossovers. . . So we were like 'Let's see how it goes.'"

Duhamel sounded blindsided by the news.

"The professional skating career that Eric and I had worked so hard for has now come to an abrupt end, and that breaks my heart and hurts me so deeply," she wrote in a long Twitter post.

Duhamel, who became a mom to daughter Zoey in 2019, said she and Radford had a verbal agreement to do professional shows together, and that she hadn't been asked if she had any interest in a competitive comeback with Radford.

"It's never my intention to hurt Meagan," Radford said. "I have nothing but respect and it does make me sad that after everything we've been through that it's come to this."

Radford said he and Duhamel had spoken via text message, and "we were able to find some a little bit of closure and we both wished each other well at the end of that conversation."

James, who's excited to compete for Canada, said she and Radford have contributed a lot to the sport, but this is an entirely new chapter.

"We're not here to diminish anything that we've done previously with our partners, they helped us achieve everything that we we've done up to now," she said. "This is just about our story, wanting to give us a shot because I think that we can create something beautiful on the ice that people have not seen.

"And, you know, why not? We're in good health, and I feel like, at this age, we're very lucky to be able to continue."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2021.

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