For Craig Buntin, the road to success in pairs skating has included many traveling companions. His past partners have included Valerie Marcoux, Chantal Poirier, Elizabeth Putnam, Sarah Robinson, Angela Kang, and Marie Lavrier. With his last partner, Marcoux, he reached as high as 11th at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, fifth at the World Championships in 2006, third at Four Continents in 2004, and won three Canadian championships.
Now the 27-year-old is taking one last shot at making the Olympic Games in Vancouver with Meagan Duhamel. The 22-year-old is perhaps his strongest partner to date. Duhamel has competed in both singles and pairs for several years, making the Canadian international team in both disciplines. But she has now discontinued competing in ladies.
Duhamel has finished as high as fourth at Canadians and fifth at Four Continents in senior ladies in 2005. Competing with Ryan Arnold in pairs, Duhamel finished as high as sixth in pairs at Canadians in 2006. She finished 13th at Junior Worlds in singles in 2003 and eighth in pairs in 2005. With Arnold, Duhamel became the first pair to successfully land side-by-side triple lutzes in competition in 2005, but the pair split in 2006.
“We stopped after Canadians,” Duhamel said. “I made the national team in singles and I got funding for singles, but I enjoyed pairs more. I was injured anyway, a stress fracture in my foot that had bothered me for a few years. I had to get special treatment for the nerve injury in my foot and was off the ice for four months.”
“Then I got sick,” she continued. “When I finally got back on the ice, I got hit by another skater and cut into the muscle of my shoulder so I couldn’t do much. I had four weeks before Canadians that I was healthy and that was my whole season. I came in sixth in senior ladies and when I came off the ice, I was smiling. My goal was to be happy and I was.”
“Then I took three months off from skating to focus on university,” she continued. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I hit a plateau in skating and needed to go on with my life. In April or May, I decided that if I wanted to continue, I’d better get some choreography done. I went to New Jersey to have Nina Petrenko do my programs, then went straight to monitoring at the national team weekend.”
Marcoux and Buntin split in early 2007. “I knew Valerie was going to retire after last season,” Buntin said. “She felt that she had done all she could, but I still had goals. I hadn’t done all I wanted to do and I felt that I needed to do all that I could to get to the Olympics in Vancouver. I got in my car and drove everywhere for tryouts to try and find a girl. I drove over 3000 kilometers in Canada and the U.S. “
“By May, I thought I’d done all I could and didn’t know what else to do,” he continued. “So I went to visit my mom in Toronto and tried to think if there was anywhere I missed that I could go. I knew that if there was a girl anywhere in the world that I would find her. I heard Meagan was interested and gave her a call. The last tryout I had was with Meagan and she was the one.”
“We skated for a few hours and it felt great,” Duhamel said. “I thought the tryout would be just for fun. But when it worked out, I told Craig that I would move to Montreal to train with him.” “The first five triple lutzes we did were perfect,” Buntin added. “We had no technical issues at all. So we knew it was a matter of how many hours we were wiling to put into it.”
“Our heads are in the same place,” he continued. “We both really want to succeed and are willing to put in the hours. If I suggest something, Meagan soaks it up like a sponge. It’s inspiring to go on the ice with her.”
The couple includes a throw triple lutz and triple salchow and side-by-side triple salchows and a triple toe-double toe combination in their long program. For the short, they use the throw triple lutz and side-by-side triple toe loops. “We didn’t want to try to do too much the first season,” Buntin said. “We know what we can do but we decided to get this program flying and improve our levels. In the spring, we’ll work on new elements. It was too quick this year.”
Richard Gauthier, Manon Perron and Bruno Marcotte coach the skaters, who train at Saint Leonard in Quebec. “We started in June,” Buntin noted. “In the beginning, we were spending eight or nine hours a day training. Now we’re back to a normal schedule, three hours a day, five days a week plus an hour of choreography with Julie Marcotte.”
Marcotte choreographed both programs for the new couple. They are using “Best Latin Tango” by Rodrigo Buertillo for the short and “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini for the long. “I picked the music,” Duhamel said. “It was the first time in ten years that I picked both programs. My short program music was a Latin tango. When I typed that in on YouTube, that music was the first that came up.” “The music from ‘Tosca” is inspiring,” Buntin said. “I wanted to use something familiar, but powerful, fast and exciting.”
“In my old career, I had to skate to slow and boring music, so I wanted a change,” Duhamel continued. “Anything that Meagan wants, is fine with me,” Buntin noted. The duo choreographed their exhibition program to “Bolero” from the closing of “Moulin Rouge”. “I wanted to skate to ‘Bolero’ for years,” Duhamel said, “and Craig said he loved it. We did it two days before the Nebelhorn.”
The couple took the silver medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy in their first competition together. It was an auspicious beginning as Marcoux and Buntin won the event in their first competition in 2002. Duhamel and Arnold also took the silver in Oberstdorf in 2005. Duhamel and Buntin finished sixth at their first senior Grand Prix, Skate Canada in Quebec. They went on to win the bronze medal at Canadian Nationals in 2008, just five points out of first.
Buntin is taking a course in entrepreneurship at Athabasca University online. “I want to have some business related to skating,” he said. “I enjoy the creative culture of skating and I want to keep that in my life.”
Duhamel likes to travel, meet new people, bake and read. She also goes on Facebook every night before bed. Buntin enjoys riding a unicycle, swing dancing, watching indie wrestling shows, and playing the guitar among other things. “Three years ago, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do before I die and those are some of them,” he said. “I want to get in the Guinness Book of World records someday, scuba dive, and see the Great Wall of China. I used to carry the list around with me every day.”
Both skaters hope to compete for several more seasons. “I’ll go as long as my body works,” Buntin said. “Once it’s not fun, it’s over,” echoed Duhamel. “That’s why I quit for a while because it had stopped being fun. But now I’m having fun again.”