Canadians Schizas, Daleman 1-2 after short program at Skate Canada International
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The last time Madeline Schizas competed in Mississauga, at the 2020 Canadian championships, she was just 16 years old. Few knew her name.
On Friday, moments after laying down the best short program at Skate Canada International, Schizas marvelled at how life has changed in the years since.
"It's weird to think how different of an experience that was," Schizas said. "I was really new to everything.
"I was more perhaps more excited about Piper's (Gilles) dog that was in the change room that year, than I was about being a national (bronze) medallist," she said, with a laugh. "I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is cool, I guess.’"
The Oakville, Ont., skater, who's now 19, arrived at this week's Grand Prix event as the top Canadian after making a statement in the team event at the Beijing Olympics.
And she delivered, scoring 67.90 for her program to the "Black Swan" soundtrack.
"It's just a totally different experience," Schizas said. "It's a little bit crazy for me to think that it wasn't that long ago, that wasn't even a full three years ago. And it's so exciting to be back in this building kind of in a different position in my career."
Schizas landed three triples in her "evil" program she said was a departure from her "go-to kind of persona." She'll skate to the more upbeat "West Side Story" soundtrack in Saturday's free program.
Canadian teammate Gabrielle Daleman is just 1.25 points behind in second, in her first Grand Prix appearance since she was 10th at Skate Canada in 2019.
Canada's world bronze medallists Gilles and Paul Poirier are the leaders after the rhythm dance, while Japan's Kao Miura is the leader in men's singles.
Schizas developed in relative obscurity during the pandemic, with most skating competitions held either virtually, live but with no fans, or cancelled altogether.
Her performances in the team event in Beijing were a revelation, and huge reason Canada was fourth — and are still in the running for bronze pending the outcome of the Russian doping scandal.
Schizas said the heightened expectations post-Beijing took a toll earlier this season. A bad case of nerves saw her finish fifth at the recent Nebelhorn Trophy after a horrible 10th-place free program.
"That bad skate there was a bit of a blessing because I got home and I thought, well, we’re still orbiting the sun. It's really not the end of the world to skate bad every once in a while," she said. "So, some of the pressure I put on myself is off a little bit."
Schizas also recently moved to Hamilton, Ont., to study human behaviour at McMaster University. Because of the pandemic, it's the first time she's been in a live classroom since Grade 11.
Daleman, meanwhile, was thrilled with her clean skate to Rhianna's "Diamonds," after a summer that included a laundry list of ailments, including COVID-19, an abdominal tear, an injured back from a car accident, and a Bell's palsy diagnosis.
"It just goes to show how strong I am and how much I love this sport and that nothing, no one, is going to hold me back or take me down," Daleman said.
The 24-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., had been one of Canada's promising young skaters, making her Olympic debut in 2014 at just 16. She won world bronze in 2017, but her career has been a roller-coaster since.
"I think it's nice because you have Gabby, who has been kind of a veteran … she's kind of making a comeback," Gilles said. "And Maddie is finally in her element and feeling confident. So, we're proud to be a part of their team, and support them every step of the way. It's been an honour to watch Maddie grow as an athlete and really step into her own and be a leader. So, we're really thrilled for the two of them."
American Ava Marie Ziegler is third with 66.49.
Gilles and Poirier scored a personal best 87.23 points with their rumba rhythm dance in their season debut.
"Especially first time out, there's always those jitters, no one's seen the programs yet, you don't know how it's going to be received, if people are going to enjoy it, if really the crowd is going to get into your energy," Poirier said.
Gilles and Poirier, who are both 30, took six weeks off this past summer to ponder their future after the pandemic robbed them of any enjoyment in the Beijing Olympic season.
"Really the goal for this season, especially for this first competition, was really just to get out and compete with that joy of skating again," Poirier said. "And I think we really felt that between the two of us today, we felt connected, we felt grounded, and we felt in our element."
Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of Great Britain go into Saturday's free dance in second with 83.80, while Americans Caroline Green and Michael Parsons are third (76.13).
Japan's Miura scored 94.06 to beat countrymate and reigning world champion Shoma Uno (89.98) in the men's short program. Italy's Matteo Rizzo was third (81.18).
Canada's Keegan Messing was fourth (79.69) after a bad fall on his quad toe-loop.
"Skating happens," said Messing, who knew mid-air he was going to crash. "It was definitely a moment of just pulling in to get the rotations done and bracing for the inevitable impact that was soon to happen."
Messing said he got a little emotional before skating in his Skate Canada finale.
"I had to remind myself that this year I'm not skiing for a placement," said Messing, who's retiring after this season. "This year is for me and I went out there and I was just having fun. Yeah, the jumps weren't there, but I gave it my all, I had fun with my footwork, I was playing with the crowd. And gosh, crowd was right there behind me on home ice."
Japan's Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara are the leaders in pairs. Canadian Brooke McIntosh — whose sister is swim star Summer — and Benjamin Mimar are fourth.
The free programs are Saturday. The Grand Prix circuit culminates in the Final in Turin, Italy in December.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2022.