OSHAWA, Ont. — Keegan Messing struggled to keep his emotions in check all week, but when he struck his final pose on Saturday, his face finally crumpled in a teary smile.
The 30-year-old from Girdwood, Alaska, who is retiring this off-season, captured gold in his final Canadian figure skating championships on Saturday.
"To go out like this is special," he said. "I've always tried to skate for the crowd and . . . to feel the reception of them knowing this is my final nationals, and I've been so close to tears too many times this entire week.
"I was upstairs warming up and I just kept getting like the tickle in my nose and the chest heaves from just trying to hold stuff back. It's such a joyous, sad, emotional whirlwind that I couldn't have ended on a better note, and I could hang up my skates right now and just be happy forever."
Messing fell twice, but his overall score of 257.78 was good enough for gold.
Madeline Schizas, a 19-year-old from Oakville, Ont., held off hard-charging 16-year-old Kaiya Ruiter to win her second national women's singles title.
Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Soerensen captured their first Canadian dance title despite a mishap on their final move when Fournier Beaudry's long skirt caught under her blade.
And Deanna Stellato-Dudek battled through a nagging virus to win the pairs event with Maxime Deschamps.
Messing's emotional farewell skate, on the same day his wife Lane Hodson was due to give birth to their second child, capped the competition at Tribute Communities Centre. He made a beeline for his parents Bob and Sally, who grabbed him in a long, sobbing hug. He did a celebratory backflip after the medal celebration over his friend and former teammate Nam Nguyen.
"The only thing that could have made it better is having a little bit of a cleaner free skate. But everything other than that, I couldn't have asked for a better ending," said Messing, who was scheduled for a 2 a.m. flight back to Alaska for the birth of his baby.
Conrad Orzel won the silver with 237.46, while Wesley Chiu scored 237.46 for bronze. Steven Gogolev, who was 17th after a disastrous short program, landed three quadruple jumps and two triple Axels to win the free skate and finish fourth overall.
Schizas, meanwhile, said she felt the pressure as the defending champion.
"I knew that the skaters ahead of me had put pressure on me to put out a skate that maybe didn't need to be perfect but did need to be a fight from start to finish. And that was difficult," Schizas said. "I was standing backstage and I was like, 'Oh gosh, this is not going to be a walk in the park.'
"I'm just happy that it was a fight from start to finish. The end of that program wasn't easy but I pushed right to the end and I'm happy with that."
Dressed in coral colours and skating to music from "West Side Story," Schizas landed six triple jumps to score 128.15 points in her free program, for 196.47 overall.
Ruiter vaulted from sixth after the short program to the silver medal with the highest free-skate score of 129.82, and a total of 189.36.
"Oh my gosh, it feels absolutely incredible," Ruiter said. "It was so unexpected and just to skate my best skate and win a medal on top of that … oh my gosh, I still can't believe it."
Fiona Bombardier, the 17-year-old daughter of two-time Olympian Josee Chouinard, claimed bronze with 180.54 points.
Schizas won a legion of fans with her impressive Olympic debut last year in Beijing, where her short program in the team event propelled Canada into the final and eventually to a fourth-place finish.
She called her second consecutive Canadian title "surreal."
"I don't think if you told me as a kid or if you told me in 2020 I was going to be a two-time Canadian champion, I would've have bought into it — now here I am," Schizas said.
Ruiter was the 2020 Canadian junior champion at just 13, trouncing a field of skaters who were in most cases at least a couple of years older.
She would have been just old enough to compete in the Beijing Olympics, but a gruesome injury sidelined her for the season.
"I landed on my skate blade, and it went through and cut two of my calf muscles," Ruiter said. "It was really rough, and then coming back from that … I had some scar tissue issues and nerve damage all throughout the summer.
"So, I only really started training again in September."
The national event determines Canada's team for the world championships March 20-26 in Saitama, Japan.
Canada has just one berth in women's singles.
While Schizas will earn that spot when the team is named Sunday, Ruiter looked forward to the world junior championship on home ice at Calgary's WinSport Event Centre.
Montreal's Fournier Beaudry and Soerensen, a Danish-Canadian, competed for Denmark before switching allegiances in 2018.
They scored 212.40 points despite their blunder, which they said cost them five points, to edge Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha by 0.6.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who won the Grand Prix Final last month, withdrew from the national championships after Gilles' appendectomy.
Fournier Beaudry and Soerensen had the crowd gasping just three seconds before the end of their music when Fournier Beaudry's blade got caught up in her four-pound skirt.
"So listen, we had a really good time. When it happened, I just started laughing because like this is ridiculous," Soerensen said. "You know, when you skate like that … the last words she told me right before: ‘Nik, just remember to enjoy every moment,’ because it goes by so fast when you're out there.
"We train so hard for seven minutes of performance in front of a crowd, seven times a year … and with whatever mistake you do, we're just really able to still enjoy and have a good time, because we're humans, and it happens to everybody."
Stellato-Dudek, a 39-year-old who came out of retirement after more than a dozen years away from the sport, has been ill for nine weeks with a virus that causes her throat to swell. She and Deschamps scored 199.18 for gold, while Brooke McIntosh, sister of swim star Summer McIntosh, claimed the silver (187.26).
"That was hard," Stellato-Dudek said through a raspy voice. "Also, usually before a competition I'm really hyped up and I'm at 110 per cent and I'm just not right now … I've never felt not 100 per cent at an event. I feel like I'm a Diet Coke, not a Coke, you know what I mean? So, I'm not giving us much caffeine or sugar or energy."
She said she was intent on competing to get her partner on the podium. Deschamps was competing in his 10th national championships — eight of them were with previous partners.
"Everyone always focuses on my story, because it's so abnormal. But Max has an amazing story also. And I really wanted to be the partner that brought him a gold medal," Stellato-Dudek said.
"After all those years that I keep fighting, persevere and everything that finally I arrived there and to be able to win, it’s just fantastic," said the 31-year-old Deschamps. "I don't know the word right now perfectly to describe what it's feeling right now."
The world championship team will be named Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2023.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press