“I have mixed emotions,” coach Bruno Marcotte confessed Thursday night, after his students Riku Miura, 20, and Ryuichi Kihara, 29, won the silver medal at the ISU World Championships in Montpellier, France. Seeing Miura/Kihara reach the World podium–less than three years after they first teamed up–was exciting. However, Marcotte also knows that his team is capable of more than they delivered in their free skate at Worlds.
“Their practices here were great,” Marcotte said. “After the Olympics, I felt like they needed to come down a little bit [from their Olympic peak]. After every competition, you need to come down. But it was like they were resisting that. Training was a struggle for a bit.”
However, things started to click a couple weeks ago for Miura/Kihara, and practices improved. It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise when Miura doubled the first triple jump in their free skate at Montpellier.
“When the first jump went wrong, it was almost like it shocked her. And she couldn’t quite get it back,” Marcotte said.
Miura and Kihara made a few more errors in their free skate and placed third in that segment, but held on for second overall.
“I told them to look at their silver medals and think: ‘This is the result of all the work you did, all the competitions, the year and a half that you had to stay in Canada, away from your families, because of covid-19. These medals represent all of that,’” said Marcotte.
It’s clear that Marcotte sees big things in the Japanese team’s future–if they stay on their current path.
“They are very special. All my students are special, of course. If they can keep the relationship, the hard work, and their focus on themselves the next few years, I think we can be in this position again,” Marcotte said, referring to Miura and Kihara vying for a World title. “Of course, there is always the big challenge of trying to find the right music, choreography, and packaging.”
While Miura/Kihara continued their rapid rise up the international ranks this season, Marcotte’s other top team, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, struggled and had career-low results at some of their fall competitions. Moore-Towers, 29, and Marinaro, 30, rebounded at Canadian Nationals in January, then delivered somewhat mixed performances at the Beijing Olympics, where they finished tenth in the individual pairs event.
Moore-Towers came down with covid-19 after Beijing, and the team chose not to skate at the World Championships in Montpellier. This week, Moore-Towers spoke publicly about the mental health struggles she experienced this year, including panic attacks brought on by anxiety about the triple twist. Marcotte said that it was hard to watch Moore-Towers and Marinaro struggle so much this season.
“As a coach, you want to reach out and help your students, help them feel better,” Marcotte soberly. “It’s been difficult.”
Marcotte feels that Moore-Towers and Marinaro’s problems had been building for some time.
“There’s one thing Kirsten didn’t mention: Worlds 2020,” Marcotte noted.
The 2020 World Championships, set to be held in Montreal, were canceled due to the pandemic just a few days before the start of the event. Marcotte said that Moore-Towers and Marinaro had had high hopes for those Worlds.
“Everything was lining up for them to be third at Worlds that year. They were skating well. Their practices were going the best they had ever been,” Marcotte recounted. “And then, it was taken away. The opportunity was gone. And afterward, we were off the ice for a long time, because of covid-19. Covid was a very stressful time period for a lot of people.”
It was particularly so for Canadian skaters, as Skate Canada did not hold many competitions during the 2020-21 season. The federation’s premier events, Skate Canada and Canadian Nationals, were both canceled.
By the time Moore-Towers and Marinaro finally returned to competition at 2021 Worlds in Stockholm, they knew they were likely in the last 12 months of their career. Marcotte, a former elite pairs skater himself, understands the motivational difficulty this presented.
“I remember when I was an athlete, I always loved coming in to train, every day,” Marcotte said. “Except for that last year. Then I started to hate it. Sometimes, with retirement, it’s the body that goes; sometimes it’s the mental side [ability/will to compete]; sometimes it’s the passion for the sport. I know Kirsten still has the passion.”
Marcotte voiced his support for, and belief in, Moore-Towers.
“I think Kirsten is doing all the right things that she needs to do now, to overcome,” he said. “Talking about it, first thing. I have no doubt that whatever Kirsten does in the future, she’ll be successful. Because she’s very smart. Although sometimes, that makes it harder. It’s hard to stop the mind from thinking. You go to bed, even, and it keeps thinking.”
With this season ending, Marcotte’s own thoughts are turning to the next quad, and how to prepare his students Miura/Kihara for continued success. He expects to see some rules changes (although nothing momentous) announced after the ISU Congress in June.
“After every quad, typically, there are rules changes,” Marcotte said. “I like this, because it challenges the athletes. I work with them on meeting the demands of the new rules. I do think we will see more side-by-side jump combinations in pairs in years to come. I don’t think we will see any more throw quads until they change the point values [of quads]. Until then, the risk isn’t worth the reward.”
Marcotte said that Miura/Kihara have already started working on some new jump combinations. “Because we don’t want to be behind the pairs who are leading the way,” he explained.
With the retirement of Moore-Towers/Marinaro (and possibly James/Radford), Canadian pairs are entering a rebuilding phase, with a thin bench in both junior and senior pairs at the moment. It’s a problem that Marcotte hopes to help address, in part, through his work as a member of Skate Canada’s High Performance Development Committee.
“Despite all of our great history in pairs skating, and now the Olympic team event, there is still a stigma around trying pairs in Canada,” Marcotte said ruefully. “We need more people [to try]. Skaters often think that they will finish their singles career and then try pairs. Only then, it’s too late, or they’re going off to college.”
Marcotte noted that many of Canada’s great pairs skaters–including his wife, Olympic medalist Meagan Duhamel–started as strong singles skaters. Other examples include Eric Radford–who just won his fifth World medal at age 37–as well as Dylan Moscovitch and Jamie Sale.
“We just need more people [to try pairs],” Marcotte said. “Right now, we have a lot of promising boys skating in Canada.” He’d like to see some of them consider pairs. “I have some ideas that I’m going to share with the committees, and with the federation.”
For now, Marcotte expressed confidence in the potential of the young Canadian pairs assigned to this year’s Junior World Championships: Brooke McIntosh/Benjamin Mimar and Chloe Panetta/Kieran Thrasher (also students of Marcotte).
Marcotte knows better than anyone that it requires time, talent, hard work, and luck to build successful pairs from the junior ranks to World Championships senior medalists, like Miura/Kihara. He hopes to keep overseeing this process for many teams in the future.