Ice is slippery.
A third Canadian title slipped from Madeline Schizas’s hands in the blink of an eye at Canadian National Skating Championships after the women’s free on Saturday.
And surprises awaited. Not only did the two-time Canadian champ not win the free skate, she finished third in it, behind a Calgary champ-in-waiting Kaiya Ruiter and Hetty Shi, a delicate 15-year-old skating to “The Prayer.”
While Ruiter won gold, Schizas held onto the silver and Shi won bronze.
Ruiter was in her element, skating at the WinSport Arena in Calgary, where she trains. She was greeted with screams when she took to the ice. Her routine wasn’t perfect, but she skated with fight and confidence and a glow that is Ruiter. She won by 7.96 points. There was a standing ovation from the best crowd of the week. Nobody expected this.
But then this national championship has been full of surprises so far.
At the Skate Canada International in Vancouver last October, Schizas showed what she could do. She landed everything there that she did not in Calgary, and finished second to world champ Kaori Sakamoto of Japan in the free skate, separated by 7.56 points.
Ruiter competed at that event, too, and finished 11th in the free and 10th overall of 12 skaters.
That was then. This is now.
Schizas, skating to “Summertime,” was in trouble from the beginning, when she stepped out of her triple Lutz, which was supposed to be the first part of her combo (triple toe loop.) She doubled a triple Salchow, stepped out of a triple loop – double toe loop – double loop sequence, landed a second triple loop, then lost balance, stepped back and fell.
Ruiter routed her on the technical side, 61.57 points to 49.03 and just edged her on the presentation side, 61.04 to 60.34. Hetty Shi defeated Schizas by .93 points in the free.
Ruiter skated with glory on her brow. Skating to “Inspiration,” to David Wilson choreography, Ruiter landed a triple flip – triple toe loop, a triple loop landed with lightness, a triple flip – double toe loop, some double Axels. Some jumps were a quarter rotation short. She stepped out of a triple Lutz.
When Ruiter finished, long-time coach Scott Davis embraced her as she came off the ice. She has come back a long way from an injury that took her out for a long time. She is still only 17.
“Just having to skate out there, that felt like magic to me,” Ruiter said afterwards. “This was one of the most special performances I’ve ever had in my life. Just to get to share that with my family and friends…It’s surreal.”
Ruiter’s father, mother, three sisters and one of her grandmothers was in the audience.
Ruiter, who has a way of thanking reporters for every question – as she always has – said she was doing what she loved. “It’s what I Iove doing the most,” she said. “It’s my happy place. It’s what I love to do. Just to get to share what I love with people I love makes it special.”
Schizas was at a loss to explain her performance. Nothing felt comfortable, she said. She hasn’t scored this low all season
“I am hugely disappointed,” Schizas said. “Like I could have walked away with that without trying that hard…I was just like, walking my way through that program, making mistakes, like one after another, after another. Very disappointing. I’ve had a very good few weeks of training, and I just don’t know.”
She just didn’t feel good, she said. She can’t point to one item, like a rolling snowball that caused the cascade of difficulties. “It was silly,” she said.
Coach Nancy Lemaire said it didn’t feel like a national championship all week. She and Schizas talked about it. “It was just hard,” Lemaire said. “It was hard for her to feel nervous or that this was a big event. There were not a lot of people in the stands. It doesn’t feel like a nationals because you can just walk around. It just feels like you are at a regular arena.”
Schizas never took it for granted that she was the winner, but she had worked hard enough to be successful, her coach said. So she was feeling calm about it.
But then when you hear the scores of the person ahead of you, “it hits you like a wave,” Lemaire said. The coach said she thought Schizas looked tired. And her legs looked “trippy.”
She had lost her energy. The adrenaline was sucked out of her at that moment.
Schizas embraced Ruiter immediately after the event. Ruiter said she looks up to Schizas very much and has known her for a long time. “She’s such an incredible competitor,” said the new champion. “We support each other. We’re a team in this.”
She said she wanted everyone to have their best day. It doesn’t feel great when you are doing well, because someone else didn’t, she said.
Ruiter said the win hadn’t sunk in yet. “I just feel so amazing,” she said.
She faced the moment by just wanting to go out and skate the way she does in practice. “I love this program so much,” she said. “I just wanted to share that with the audience.”
The difference between Skate Canada International and nationals this week? “Just hard work pays off when you put it in, at some point, even if you don’t know when,” she said.
“I always want to go out to every competition and just enjoy it. You never know how many you are going to get. I just want to soak in every moment I have.”