The future of Canadian women's figure skating wasn't in the senior field at the Canadian championships in January.
Kaiya Ruiter was already on a flight home to Calgary with a junior gold medal in her bag, having trounced a field a skaters who were in most cases were a good half a foot taller and a couple of years older.
Ruiter, which is pronounced like writer, might have been a favourite to won the senior event in Mississauga, Ont. But the 13-year-old wasn't old enough to compete.
"Normally I'd say you never know, you can't really compare that too much because it would be maybe a different feeling being with these senior ladies and with TV and everything," said her coach Scott Davis. "But knowing her, it wouldn't have even fazed her. She just loves those moments of being able to perform. So who knows?"
Ruiter headlines Canada's team at the world junior championships this week in Tallin, Estonia, the first major event for the young star who will be old enough — just — to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
"She'll be 15 that year," Davis said. "So, while this whole year has been a huge step for her, in the big picture we all know (Beijing) could be potentially in the cards for her, so we're not going to not embrace it, but we're also trying to just take it one step at a time, and do those things: keep her healthy, keep her happy, keep her . . . well, she's already super motivated."
Emily Bausback scored 175.54 to win senior gold at the national championships a couple of days after Ruiter, who learned to skate on Ottawa's Rideau Canal, won the junior gold with 174.83. But the senior program includes one more element, a choreo sequence, that has a base value of 3.0 points, leaving points on the table that Ruiter could have earned in the older age group.
Skating to music from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the four-foot-nine skater with wide Disney-character eyes and rosy cheeks reeled off seven triple jumps. Posing for post-medal podium pictures, she reached chin level of the two other medallists.
Her emergence is great timing for Skate Canada, which has had a slew of recent big-name retirements, including world champion Kaetlyn Osmond, in recent years. Osmond, who was at the national championships, trained with Ruiter a few years ago in Edmonton, and was impressed by the young athlete even then.
"Kaiya is an absolutely incredible skater, but also such a genuine person," said Osmond, who won bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. "I'm so proud of everything she's accomplished and will continue to accomplish. She has so much ability, but her work ethic, sportsmanship and attitude is what sets her apart. She is so young and already one of Canada's favourites. I can't wait to see how her future unfolds."
Davis, a former U.S. champion who coaches out of Calgary's Glencoe Club, called Ruiter "an amazing trainer."
"It's pretty much clean programs, which is . . . yeah, I've never really seen an athlete in my 20 years of coaching that consistent," he said. "And (her personality) is genuine, it comes from a pure place of just loving every second she's out there, and you can see that intensity and focus and passion for the sport daily, and then obviously when the competition comes, she's learning to rise to the occasion even more which is fun to watch, and inspiring actually too."
Ruiter's rise comes during a huge revolution in women's skating. Young women are landing quadruple jumps, pushing the growth on the women's side to heights that even a couple of years ago would seem unimaginable.
Rather than feeling pressure, Scott said Ruiter can't wait to unleash an arsenal of four-revolution jumps.
"She is very aware of what the world is doing, she watches live feeds of Russian nationals, and she's watching competitions with her (three) sisters, she's really keen and knows who's doing what, and that inspires her," he said.
Ruiter is already landing the triple Axel — a jump that used to trip up Canada's three-time world champion Patrick Chan — in a harness, which resembles a giant fishing pole that Davis holds.
"That's one of the goals for this summer is to start working on that a little bit more intensely, and then we'll see which triple might be able to be a quad," he said. "She's got great technique from (previous coaches) Darlene (Joseph) and Ravi (Walia), and then we'll which one has the most height. And she's a quick rotator, so keeping that intact, and then obviously keeping her healthy, you don't want to injure the body.
"But she's very keen to do that, she wants to compete against the best in the world. At nationals she was super happy, but she's looking ahead, she's looking ahead to junior worlds, she's looking ahead at the Olympics in two years."
Stephen Gogolev, a 15-year-old who won silver in senior men at the 2019 Canadian championships and was the gold medallist at the junior Grand Prix Final in 2018, headlines the boys field this week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2020.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press