Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are focused squarely on the Pyeongchang Olympics, where the pairs team from Canada will contend for a gold medal inside Gangneung Ice Arena in the next couple of weeks.
That hasn’t stopped them from pondering what will happen afterward.
The 32-year-old Duhamel and 33-year-old Radford, two-time world champions, are under no pretenses that this isn’t their final major competition. They may continue to compete after the Winter Games, and both have expressed an interest in exhibition skating, but South Korea will in many ways serve as an exclamation point on their impressive careers.
“As we’ve advanced in our career and become more experienced, and wiser – I think it’s a cliche but the story of our careers is that anything is possible if you don’t give up,” Radford said. “You hear that all the time but we’re an example of pure determination and hard work making success happen.”
As the Olympics approach, Duhamel and Radford aren’t the only figure skaters reflecting on their careers. Nor are they the only ones pondering what will come next after South Korea.
There’s three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada and his teammate Keegan Messing, both of whom are likely participating in their last Olympics. Two-time world champ and reigning European champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, at 26 one of the gold medal favorites, also could be competing in his final Winter Games.
That’s just the men’s competition.
While 15-year-old Russian Alina Zagitova stands at one end of the ladies’ spectrum, there is 31-year-old Carolina Kostner at the other. The Italian is a former world champion, five-time European champ and a strong contender to land on the podium in her last Olympics.
Duhamel and Radford are among the pairs favorites along with two other established teams: Aliona Savchenko, who just turned 34, and 29-year-old Bruno Massot are five-time world champions for Germany, and 30-year-old Vanessa James and her partner, 26-year-old Morgan Cipres, give France a chance.
In ice dance, Canadian favorites Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir returned from a brief retirement to take another shot at gold. The 28-year-old Virtue and 30-year-old Moir stood on the top step of the podium at the 2010 Vancouver Games, then took silver four years later at the Sochi Games.
“It’s hard not to be sentimental at this point in our season and careers, when you’re near the end,” Virtue said. “This whole comeback process has been so fulfilling and rewarding. We’re trying to embrace it all, the pressure and anxiety and stress that is building.
“This is the year we’ve been dreaming and thinking about for a long time,” added Virtue, who along with Moir will carry Canada’s flag into the opening ceremony. “It’s here and it’s imminent, so we’re trying to remember this is such a privilege. We’re in a fabulous position. We just have to embrace it all, the highs and lows, and be present for every step.”
There is always turnover in figure skating, especially when top competitors are often teenagers that already have peaked by their early 20s. But often those stars flame out away from the Olympic ice, between cycles, and it can happen so quickly that they are never given a proper sendoff.
That’s what makes this year’s Pyeongchang Olympics unique.
Sure, the sheer number of elite skaters approaching or surpassing 30 is noteworthy, but most of them have acknowledged that this is their final major event. They have built worthy resumes that will no doubt be remembered for years, and for which fans in South Korea will no doubt applaud.
“I’ve really learned, if anything, to embrace every single day that I get the chance to come in and train and skate and do something I’m good at,” Chan said, “and that feels great to do.”
So what comes after skating?
Duhamel has always been interested in choreography and coaching, and would like to work for the International Skating Union as a technical specialist. Radford, her partner, likewise wants to become a technical specialist, and perhaps even work on the ISU’s technical committee.
Chan said he’s had plenty of opportunities after skating, but he isn’t ready to turn his attention to them quite yet. Not with the Pyeongchang Olympics beginning next week.
“Whether I take those or don’t take those, they’re all there and they’re available and kind of waiting their turn,” he said. “I’m going about one goal at a time, the Olympics and then who knows? I can’t even tell you what I want for worlds. Nobody is discussing it. We’re all in the same boat, just focused on the games, because that is the biggest event of the season.”