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How did two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford become ‘underdogs’?

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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have been a pairs team for Canada since 2010. From the beginning of their partnership, they knew they had something special. In their first tryout, Radford recalled he nearly cried because he was struck with the realization they were going to be really good. Duhamel described their partnership as one between soulmates: “It’s Meagan and Eric’s chemistry, which may not be a romantic chemistry. It may not be a brother and sister type of chemistry. But it’s special, and it belongs only to us,” she said.

NBCOlympics.com: Who are Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford?

They found much success in their partnership: seven Canadian national pairs titles, the Grand Prix Final gold in 2014, Four Continents gold in 2013 and 2015, plus back-to-back world championship gold medals in 2015 and 2016.

At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Duhamel and Radford helped Team Canada win a silver medal in the team event. In the pairs event, they placed seventh. That finish is partly fueling their drive toward PyeongChang.

Duhamel and Radford ran into trouble in the 2016-17 season, despite still capturing medals. They earned a bronze at the Grand Prix Final, silver at Four Continents, and finished seventh at the world championships.

“Everything that we’ve been able to win, every accolade has a special meaning and a special memory attached to it, no matter how big the competition or how small it is,” Duhamel told NBCOlympics.com when asked to compare the significance of each medal in their trophy cases. “There are some bronze medals and silver medals that we were disappointed with in the moment, but they have so much value because of the lessons that they taught us for the rest of the seasons and the years that were to follow.”

NBCOlympics.com: Canada announces Olympic figure skating team

Following those world championships, Radford revealed some of his off-ice struggles. During the break between Four Continents and Worlds, he didn’t feel refreshed or motivated. Working with a sports psychologist helped ease those thoughts. Radford also experienced numbness and loss of control in his hip due to a herniated disk in his lower back. The pair changed the layout of their programs at Worlds in order to accommodate his injury.

Alarm bells were ringing by June. (But so were wedding bells, when Radford proposed to boyfriend Luis Fenero in Spain)

It was time to choose their Olympic season music; being an important year, they wanted their music to have the most impact as possible. They went with a cover of U2’s “With or Without You” for the short program and a Muse medley for the free skate.

They also changed up their coaching staff that summer. Bruno Marcotte stayed on as head coach with the team in Montreal (he’s also Duhamel’s husband) and Julie Marcotte, Bruno’s sister, remained as choreographer. Duhamel and Radford added Florida-based John Zimmerman as a coach and added John Kerr as a choreographer, too.

Duhamel and Radford came into the Olympic season under the radar, on the advice of 2002 Olympic pairs champion David Pelletier from Canada.

Last winter, Pelletier was on the phone with Radford and told him the best thing the team could do would be to finish sixth or seventh at Worlds, to ease some of the pressure off them.

As Radford recalled: “He said ‘You know what would be the best thing for you? If you were to go to Worlds and come sixth or seventh. And then you fly under the radar and you come back and you win the Olympics.’ And when we came seventh at the worlds, I thought ‘Oh my god, he actually said seventh place.’”

It’s working, according to Duhamel.

“I think that we’re kind of the underdogs this season,” Duhamel said, though added that they’re trying to live in each moment and not get ahead of themselves.

They began the season at the Autumn Classic, a Challenger Series event. They picked up a silver medal there, before going to win Skate Canada, their first Grand Prix of the season. They earned a bronze in November’s Skate America.

When they were looking towards the Grand Prix Final, Duhamel said of their rivals, “We’ll let the Chinese and the Germans and the Russians feel the pressure. We’re gonna keep working hard, keep our head down, and hopefully we’ll be able to deliver in the moment when it matters the most.”

At the Grand Prix Final, they earned another bronze. The pair from Germany won, like Duhamel predicted, while the Russians surprisingly finished fourth and fifth in the six-team field. The two Chinese teams were second and sixth. They already held the most national titles in history for a Canadian pair team at six, but they pushed the boundary further in January to win their seventh and officially qualify for their second Olympic team.

NBCOlympics.com: Meet Team USA: Figure skating

“At this point, we’ve already achieved more than we’ve ever dreamed in this sport. The opportunity is ahead of us to achieve even more and we don’t take that for granted. We’re definitely very proud of ourselves with everything we’ve been able to accomplish in the sport.” Radford said in November.

The team sees the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics as their “grand finale.” They want to leave Olympic ice knowing they created a special moment.

“You never know that it’s going to happen until you hit that ending position and everything worked and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, we did it! How did that just happen?’” Radford said. “Of course, it’s what we imagine, what we hope for, every competition. Not only was it an incredible moment for us but we also got to, I think, create a special moment for thousands of other people as well.”

Duhamel echoed those sentiments.

“You can feel that energy from the audience and the energy between us,” she said. “It’s a pretty obvious thing, but invisible thing. We can usually feel it and that’s what we’re striving for this season with the two programs that we have.”

Additional reporting by Seth Rubinroit.

How Arianna Fontana quietly skated into short track history

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Arianna Fontana is silently one of the greatest short track skaters in Olympic history.

Her numbers at the Games speak for themselves; one gold, two silver, and five bronze. Those eight total medals make her the most decorated female short track skater by two medals, and tie her with legends Apolo Ohno and Viktor Ahn for most Olympic medals ever won by a short track skater.

But it is her numbers outside the Olympic stage that really call attention to her Olympic success. She is a 14-time world medalist, which is no small feat, but her podium appearances are spread over a 12-year competitive career. Someone like Elise Christie, for example, has won 12 world championships medals in just five years. And also unlike Christie, Fontana has never won an overall title.

But Christie struggled on the sport’s biggest stage in both Sochi and PyeongChang, and has yet to win her first Olympic medal. Fontana, on the other hand, has become such a consistent podium presence over the last two Games that she almost makes it look easy.

Before retiring from competition, Ohno won 21 world medals, eight of them gold. Ahn, still competing but not one of the athletes invited to competed at the PyeongChang Olympics as an Olympic Athlete from Russia, has to date has won 35 world medals, 20 of which were gold.

Fontana does not come from a short track power like South Korea or China, perhaps another reason why she is not more notorious.

Most of her medals are bronze, which could be used as a strike against her, but just ask Lindsey Vonn how hard she worked to get hers this year.

Fontana’s first medal came at the 2006 Torino Olympics, when she helped the Italian women to bronze in the 3000m relay at just 15 years old. Fontana earned her first individual medal, a bronze in the 500m, four years later in Vancouver.

But in Sochi, she exploded, making the podium in three out of four events: the 500m, where she won silver, and the 1500m and 3000m relay, where she picked up two more bronzes.

“I thought I was going to win a gold medal in Sochi but I still don’t have that,” Fontana said to the ISU in early 2017. “That’s there up in my mind and sometimes it comes out and says, ‘Hey, you still miss me? So come get me!'”.

But after the 2014-15 season, Fontana’s desire for gold was eclipsed by something else: burnout.

“I was pretty tired mentally. My body was ready to race again but my mind was not. It was hard for me. After the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, I had some doubts about whether to keep skating or not,” Fontana said to the ISU. “Maybe it would have been better to take that year right after the Olympic Games off, but I decided to keep going. It is not that I regret it, but I had some hard times that season.”

She stayed active during her time off, learning how to box, which eased the transition back to skating.

Her pursuit for gold was what motivated her comeback, and in 2018 Fontana got what she came back for.

“When I saw I was first, I was just yelling and started crying. I worked for four years and the last four months were really hard for me. I was really focused on getting here in the best shape ever,” Fontana said after earning the 500m Olympic title.

“I was chasing it and finally I got it.”

In addition to her 500m gold medal, Fontana also added a 1000m bronze and 3000m relay bronze.

Fontana has spoken about retirement, but has not made a definitive decision. She will only be 31 years old by the time 2022 rolls around, so she could feasibly add to her medal haul if she competes. What she has made clear is that when she does leave the sport she hopes to become a personal trainer.

Whenever she does retire Fontana should be considered not only one of the greatest Italian athletes or greatest short track skaters, but also one of the greatest Winter Olympians.

How to watch Closing Ceremony of 2018 Winter Olympics

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Another Olympics is in the books.

The PyeongChang Closing Ceremony will cap off the 2018 Winter Games Sunday morning, beginning at 6 a.m. ET / 3 a.m. PT with a live stream of the events.

Jessie Diggins has been named the U.S. flag bearer after an incredibly gutsy performance to take home the country’s first-ever gold medal in Cross-Country.

How, when and where to watch the Closing Ceremony

Stream LIVE on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app: Sunday at 6 a.m. ET / 3 a.m. PT (Stream here)

The live stream will feature all the sights and sounds of the Closing Ceremony without any commentary.

Watch on TV: Sunday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on NBC (Stream here)

The Olympic figure skating commentating trio of Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir and Terry Gannon will host the Closing Ceremony on NBC in primetime beginning at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT.

“It’s a huge honor and privilege,” Lipinski said. “I’m so excited to embark on this new and exciting adventure and bring the Closing Ceremony to the U.S.”

“This is a glorious and unexpected experience that I can’t wait to get fancy for!” Weir said.

Mike Tirico – NBC’s primetime host throughout the PyeongChang Games – hosted the Closing Ceremony for Rio in 2016 alongside Ryan Seacrest and Mary Carillo.

Tirico and Katie Couric hosted the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony in South Korea two weeks ago.

Sunday night’s primetime edition of the Closing Ceremony will also feature simulstreams on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. (Stream here)