“I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way this can happen! This is a terrible idea,’” laughed Wolski, who helped Canada to hockey bronze at PyeongChang 2018. “But then we try it, and we try it again... and suddenly it feels normal, like something I’ve always been able to do.”
Duhamel, who won gold in the figure skating team event in 2018 as well as a bronze in the pairs event alongside partner Eric Radford (pictured above), has been pushing her hockey-playing partner as the two are part of a field of eight teams (for a total of 16 competitors) in the sixth season of Battle of the Blades on Canadian TV (CBC).
The show pits two athletes – usually a figure skater and hockey player – paired together to perform for a panel of judges, which this season includes Olympic gold medallists Scott Moir and Natalie Spooner, and former Canadian skater Elladj Baldé. Figure skating great Kurt Browning also provides commentary as an in-house expert. The audience at home can vote as well, with the teams who do the best advancing to the next week's show.
Providing some entertainment in a hard time
With Skate Canada cancelled this year, the show is offering Canadian fans the chance to watch skating performances – albeit those of the exhibition variety – in a figure skating season which has already seen several major events taken off the calendar due to coronavirus restrictions.
“I hope that people watching at home are being taken out of the COVID world for a little bit and we can provide some entertainment, some fun,” Duhamel told Olympic Channel. “I think people need that right now. They can get lost in these skating programs and performances.”
Other Canadian figure skaters on the show this season include Radford, Olympic ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, as well as French pairs skater Vanessa James, a two-time Olympian. Wolski is joined by fellow Olympic medallists in hockey Meghan Agosta and Jennifer Botterill.
With the show having debuted last week (22 October), Duhamel and Wolski said that while they are happy to be performing and providing entertainment for people at home during a hard time, they also understand the challenges meeting current athletes who are eyeing either Tokyo 2020 or Beijing 2022.
#StrongerTogether: 'It's such a mental test right now'
“A really great athlete is able to adapt,” said Duhamel of what current athletes are facing. “(Whether that be) to game plans, obstacles, challenges... I think more than ever right now, athletes need to be adaptable and they need to stay optimistic as they're looking forward to the future. But I do understand that it's really difficult to be adaptable because (it is) a future that you don't even know what's happening.”
In figure skating, officials have cancelled Skate Canada (set for 30-31 October) and the French Grand Prix (13-14 November), while also postponing the Grand Prix Final, scheduled for early December.
Skate America took place last weekend (23-24 October), with only American or U.S.-based athletes allowed to travel for the event, which took place without fans on site.
“It’s such a mental test” right now, Wolski added to Olympic Channel. “It’s really going to show you who is strong mentally. “It's one thing to be physically strong, but to be a professional athlete, the mental side of it is so important.”
He continued: “I think this is really going to test a lot of people. But I look at people that are strong, (and) they are going to come out of this even stronger.
"They're going to really show you truly great athletes. And I just hope that this doesn't derail anyone's career.” - Wojtek Wolski on COVID-19 challenges
Duhamel echoed the importance of that inner strength.
“I think that (these athletes) can look inside of them and find that motivation inside of them to keep improving themselves,” she said. “So when the door is open and sporting events are happening again, everybody is going to be ready and they're going to be better than they were the last time they were on that stage.”
New challenges on the ice
On the Battle of the Blades stage, Duhamel said she’s working on helping Wolski learn something new about figure skating each week. They recently showed off a double twist on Instagram (above).
Asked what things hockey players could teach figure skaters, Wolski laughed.
“Absolutely nothing!” He said, but then added how special he feels the show is, bringing the two sports together: “What I love about it is that you have so many extremely competitive athletes put together in an arena... competing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hockey player or figure skater. We’ve got a new challenge, a new obstacle... and we’ve come here to win.”
Each skater on the show is competing for a selected charity. The show can be seen for Canadian fans weekly on CBC or CBC Gem.