Vanessa James and Eric Radford form new Canadian pairs team

Today, Skate Canada confirmed that Vanessa James and Eric Radford have formed a new pairs team. They will be coached by Julie Marcotte and Ian Connolly in Montreal and hope to represent Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

When asked why they decided to team up, both responded, “why not?” (James in an interview on “That Skating Show” and Radford speaking to CBC Sports). The two first skated together on a practice session while filming “Battle of the Blades” last November, where Radford’s former partner Meagan Duhamel was also a competitor. James and Radford say the partnership then evolved from there into more practice sessions, firstly to evaluate potential future show-partnerships before the idea of returning to competition took hold.

They will have a tough road ahead debuting in an Olympic season, and both are well aware of that fact. “This has never been done before,” James said. “We’ve seen comebacks with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Aljona Savchenko many times, Tatiana Volosozhar and Max Trenko, but never in the year of an Olympics and never with a completely different partner…It’s not going to be an easy task but we’re ready for the challenge.”

Vanessa James previously represented France skating with Morgan Ciprès, with whom she won a European title, Grand Prix Final title, Worlds medal, and finished 5th at the 2018 Olympics. James and Ciprès announced their retirement from competition in September of last year after reports emerged that Ciprès was the subject of a Florida police investigation for sharing explicit photos with a 13-year-old girl who he helped coach at their training rink in 2017. In December 2020, Ciprès was charged with a third-degree felony and a warrant was issued for his arrest, which has not been served since he is currently living in France.

SafeSport, the body which investigates misconduct in US Olympic sports, subsequently issued a two-year suspension to James and Ciprès’ former coach, John Zimmerman, and coaches Silvia Fontana and Vinny Dispenza each received six months of probation. The victim and her parents claim coaches pressured her to stay silent as the allegations would damage James and Cipres’ Olympic prospects the following year. Zimmerman intends to appeal that decision and the French figure skating federation, FFSG, declined to take action against Ciprès, claiming they did not have sufficient evidence available. Vanessa James has not issued any public statement related to the incident.

James was born in Scarborough, Ontario, so already holds Canadian citizenship, so the only obstacle was being released by the French figure skating federation. Surprisingly, she was released in a matter of weeks, a stark difference from difficult transfers of the past such as Bruno Massot’s release to partner Aljona Savchenko where France demanded a fee of 30,000 Euros from the German federation. The exact conditions of James’ release have not been disclosed. Before representing France, James previously competed domestically in the United States and as a singles and pairs skater internationally for the United Kingdom until 2007, so she will now have represented four different countries throughout her career.

Eric Radford represented Canada with Meagan Duhamel until 2018. The team were two-time World champions, two-time Four Continents champions, Grand Prix Final champions, three-time Olympic medalists (silver and gold in the team event and bronze in the pairs event), and won seven consecutive Canadian national titles. They were the first pairs team to complete a throw quadruple jump at the Olympics. Radford is also the first openly gay man to win a gold medal at the Olympic games and the sixth oldest male figure skating champion.

According to a statement from Duhamel, she and Radford had verbal agreements to continue doing shows together and she was not consulted prior to his team-up with James. “I was notified of this team after it was finalized and a release was given,” she wrote on her Twitter. “I was not asked if I’d be interested in a comeback nor was I notified that Eric was considering a comeback. Even if I had no intention of returning, I think a chat with me BEFOREHAND would have been respectful.” She also wished Radford happiness and stressed that she did not wish harm to anyone.

James and Radford now throw a wrench into the battle for Olympic spots within Canada. At the 2021 World Championships, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro came in sixth while Evelyn Walsh and Trent Michaud finished twelfth, which secures two Olympic spots for the Canadian team. If James and Radford are competitive right out of the gate, they could knock the young team of Walsh and Michaud off of the squad for Beijing, which is made more awkward by the fact that Radford has worked on their coaching team. Radford says he spoke to Trent and Michaud right after James was released by France to say that he would still be cheering them on and wants to maintain a “team atmosphere” even while they compete against one another.

While the start of the 2021/2022 season is still a ways off–this announcement came on just the third day of the official off-season–James and Radford say they want to get as many competitions under their belt before competing at Nationals. Their official debut will be at Quebec provincials in August, just six months before the Olympic Games and even fewer before Canadian nationals which will decide the Olympic team.

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