Where will Canada’s next figure skating stars come from?
When Brian Orser left, there was Kurt Browning. When Browning retired, there was Elvis Stojko. After Stojko left, Patrick Chan emerged.
It is the yesteryear of Canadian figure skating, men’s department, successive generations of world champions covering the country with glitter of medals. But, with the exception of potential 17-year-old Stephen Gogolev, the closet looks awfully empty.
Keegan Messing has already said he will retire from competition at the end of this season, which concludes with the world championships in March. And frankly, there’s not much to make eyes pop in other skating disciplines either, with veteran ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier not committed beyond 2022-23, let alone the 2026 Olympics.
Look, they’re great figure skaters and they’ve represented Canada well for many… many — years on the world stage. Their performances over the next few months, combined with the national championships in January, will determine who gets their ticket to the world championships in Saitama, Japan. This could be the last legacy left by Canadian skaters now long enough in the competitive tooth, those who hung on after the 2022 Beijing Games, where the Canadians walked away with zippo medals, laundered for the first time since 1980.
(Although the team event podium chart remains unresolved, nine months later the International Olympic Committee became entangled in cascading legal complexities from Russian doper Kamila Valieva. Those medals are still pending. Canada, who finished fourth in the team event, could still be upstaged to bronze.)
The end of an Olympic year, that slippery stretch after all the competitive intensity of the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet, is usually a time to catch our breath. In the first year of the quadrennial cycle, many top skaters take time off from the season as national federations begin to assess upcoming talent for the upcoming Games.
There are certainly worthy candidates on the national horizon, some capitalizing on their exposure in Beijing, others just starting to emerge from the junior ranks, and quite a few who will be showcased at Skate Canada this weekend in Mississauga, the second leg of the International Union Grand Prix Circuit Skating Championship.
Are they, however, the best contenders for the drawer? Will they ever be?
Figure skating never stops. Last weekend at Skate America, teenage phenom Ilia Malinin wowed when she landed the first quadruple Axel in Grand Prix history after, a month earlier, the first quadruple Axel of any competition at a lower level event in Lake Placid.
Many of us never believed that we would see the day when that leap – four and a half rotations on the edge of a blade – would be executed cleanly. Malinin is 17 and his electrifying performance, which included four more quad jumps, propelled him to gold after the short program.
There is nothing so high on the Canadian horizon. While some blossoming skaters have shown glimmers of ability that could reach Olympic medal level by the Milan Cortina Games in 2026 and the world championships in between, it’s a tough era for skating in a a country justly proud of its powerful history in sport. , but with only two world medals since 2019.
These days, as personified by several Skate Canada attendees from within the Dominion – or, in the case of 30-year-old, dual-citizen Messing, from Anchorage – we’re mostly watching a group of late gasps that have either already indicated impending retirement or given no assurance that they will linger for another four years. Which is a big ask, I know, for skaters who have competed for decades and are eager to make money through on-ice shows or just want to continue their lives away from the rink.
Messing, the reigning national champion, 11th in Beijing, 14th at the 2022 Worlds, will soon sign. Gilles and Poirier are sketchy; she is 30 years old, he will be 31 in a few weeks. Gabrielle Daleman, who won bronze at the national championships last season, has battled an eating disorder, suffered a series of work-related injuries and has spoken openly about her mental health struggles. She is 24 years old. She won bronze at the world championships — in 2017.
God loves them but that’s the past, not the future.
“I really want to approach the year almost like any other year,” Messing said during a pre-Skate Canada conference call. “Every year I really fight for placement, I fight for this, I fight for that. This year, I don’t care a bit. This year is for me. I have a checklist of goals, metaphorically. I just want to show off and skate freely. I want to skate more for the crowd. I want to go back a bit to my roots.
“I introduce myself and I put myself on the table. I don’t really care how I skate, but I want the skating aspect of the programs to be authentic, a way of saying goodbye to the sport.
Messing will perform a new short program for Canadian audiences at the Paramount Fine Foods Center, though the routine, set to Mika’s “Grace Kelly,” was unveiled last month during the ISU Challenger Series in Oberstdorf, Germany, where Messing repeated as a gold medalist.
He kept the long program from last season, with some changes in choreography and show jumping. There will be no attempt at the Lutz quad that Messing worked hard on all summer long, a deletion necessitated by, first, a sprained ankle a fortnight before Nebelhorn, then, his other ankle. hit hard by deep landings in practice and, more recently, an “equipment malfunction”, blowing her boot. So Messing is skating in a new pair, a considerable adjustment for elite skaters, still a bit stiff, making the untested Lutz quad, second most difficult jump, too risky.
“I want to save my body parts because I would like to walk away from the season, literally,” he said.
Messing’s biggest rival on the podium in Mississauga is defending world champion Uno Shoma of Japan. Toronto’s Gogolev is getting back on track after injuries and a growth spurt where the teenager soared to six feet.
Besides Daleman, Madeline Schizas will carry the Canadian flag. It was Schizas of Oakville whose stellar performance as an Olympic rookie propelled Canada to the team final in Beijing. (Canada has only one entry in women’s singles at the world championships.)
Schizas, 19, is in her second season as a senior and admits she got a lagging pitch for this campaign. “When we started the Olympic year, I started organizing programs in May. At the end of the season, the end of the programs, the preparation, then the summer was a little fractured, it was more difficult to get some of this very good training.
“It’s been all over the place… It just takes longer than you think. For me, it was a learning experience. It’s not as easy as you think. It took me a while to pull myself together and get back to training.
The pairs peloton is led by expressive Japanese duo Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi, the world silver medalists, whose coaching staff includes Canadian Bruno Marcotte. The Canadian pairs delegation includes Skate America bronze medalists Kelly Ann Laurin and Loucas Ethier and world junior bronze medalists Brooke McIntosh and Benjamin Mimar.
For Gilles and Poirier, the challenge was to rediscover their passion after a season that exhausted them. They were reeling from a heartbreaking seventh place finish in Beijing, followed by a fifth at the world championships, after which they looked quite ready to retire. But they realized they weren’t done with the sport yet.
“We were both excited to skate and compete again,” Poirier said last week, “but neither of us really knew how we wanted to approach the season. What we ended up doing was just showing up to the rink and skating because we didn’t have a game plan. Normally by the time we get to the offseason we’ve already decided on the music, we pretty much know what we’re planning on doing. This time we entered blindly and began to see what we were looking to and what inspired us.
“We’re going to run every program as it is on the day and not try to be 10 steps ahead,” Gilles said. “We just want to enjoy the process this year and not get too competitive, too much on ourselves if things don’t go well.”
But, as Gilles pointed out, this is a team that still expects to be in contention for a medal. “That’s where we’re aiming, otherwise we wouldn’t continue. I feel that we still have things to accomplish.
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