His wedding day back in August up in Alaska doesn’t grow old for Keegan Messing. He’s still celebrating it.
He won the men’s short program at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships with a routine dedicated to his wife, Lane, using the music from their first dance: “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran.
The one thought on Messing’s mind during the six-minute warmup was trying to spot where Lane was sitting in the crowd in the Mississauga arena. But try as he might, he couldn’t.
Immediately off the ice, Messing texted her with a sense of urgency: “Where are you? I can’t find you!”
She explained. (Oh the power of texting at a Canadian championship.)
When he took to the ice, he found her. That settled him. “I focused myself back on my program and worked myself into skating a clean short out there,” he said.
As he hurtled around the corner, preparing for his triple Axel – Lane was sitting in that corner – he locked eyes on her. In that moment, he saw her walking down the aisle back in August again.
“I almost started bawling,” he said.
Into the triple Axel, he felt his face heating up. “STOP!” he shouted to himself. “Triple Axel! That’s where we are right now!”
He landed it.
The most disappointing part of his routine was putting both hands down on a triple Lutz, his most consistent jump of all, his rock of Gibraltar. “I got a little bit of wobbly legs,” he said.
It’s a wondrous program for Messing: the feel of it is the feeling he has being married. Love on the ice. Choreographer Lance Vipond made it possible. Messing often wears his heart on his sleeve. Vipond helps him put it on ice, through movement and gesture. “The connection I have with my wife: I have to say it’s the first time I will be skating in my career that I don’t feel alone on the ice,” Messing said.
“It’s like she’s right there with me skating, and I’d never want to get rid of this program because of that.”
Well, not ever? “No, Lance won’t have that,” he said.
And oh yes, he earned a healthy 92.61 points for his heartfelt skate, 4.57 points more than friend Nam Nguyen (88.04) with Roman Sadovsky and his winsome ways third at 85.02. Joseph Phan was fourth at 82.74.
When Messing finished, his hand on his heart, the crowd rose in a standing ovation. “It felt amazing to see a standing ovation in a perfect program like that,” he said. “It shows me that the feeling I have skating has come through and the people can see the feeling going into the edge work and the skating quality of the program. And to see that standing ovation means that people feel it. It means that much more to me.”
Nguyen, skating to “Blues for Klook,” got a little close to the boards on his opening quad combination that was to be a quad Salchow – triple toe loop. Squished up against the barrier, it turned into a quad-double. The rest went without a hitch.
Messing defeated him both on technical and component marks. Messing got the edge on Nguyen with his quad toe loop – triple toe loop, and with its bonuses, earned him 15.74 points, while Nguyen’s combo got him 12.66. Messing got about a half point more for his adventurous triple Axel. Officials ranked them exactly equal in performance points, right down to the hundreth.
“I think it went all right,” Nguyen said. “I think obviously there were some nerves.”
He actually watched Messing’s entire skate, rare for a skater. “It was very special to see, for him to put that out, especially the quad combo,” Nguyen said. “That was a real beaut.”
Nguyen admitted he felt a bit tentative, but he was still able to push through, even with “that little incident with the boards with the Sal.”
Roman Sadovsky, skating to an interesting version of “Fly Me to the Moon,” earned 85.02 points after he put a hand down to steady an imperfect quad Salchow. Then he reattached the missing triple toe loop onto a later triple Lutz, which, alas was underrotated (as was the quad Salchow.)
“It didn’t completely reflect how I’ve been training,” he said. “I just broke a little bit under the pressure that I put on myself.” Sadovsky finds most pressure in the do-or-die short programs. But the big score – with mistakes – gives him hope. “I guess it shows that if I put it out there, it’s definitely a world class score that I can get,” he said.
After finishing tenth at Skate Canada, he delivered an incredible free skate at NHK Trophy, finishing third. But his short program in Japan wasn’t as good as his short here in Mississauga. He got the overall highest score of his career at NHK (247.50) after having to climbing back from a 78.51 short-program score at NHK. His top score for a short program is the 86.34 he got at Finlandia Trophy, the event he calls a short-program breakthrough for him.
Phan looked relieved when his score of 82.74 flashed up on the screen, because he had been so nervous the whole day about the short program. In the car on the way to the rink, he fell dead silent, too nervous to speak. His practice the morning of the short program didn’t go well, either. He was just so tense.
But the 18-year-old Quebecker put a hand down on a rotated quad toe loop in combination with a double toe loop , and stepped out of a triple Axel, a jump that has been giving him big problems lately. All after he told himself to stay focused, to stay in his head, to try to make his body go into autopilot.
Phan, the 2016 junior champion, moved to Toronto in August of 2018 to skate at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club with an array of coaches, including Brian Orser. He occasionally makes trips up to Barrie to have Doug Leigh help him with his jumps.
He found the transition from Quebec to Toronto difficult last year. He calls it an adaptation year. “It took a really long time for me,” he said. “But now this year I feel like I’m used to it. I’ve adapted and I have no reason to put that as an excuse.”
For the free skate Saturday, Phan will try two different quads for the first time. Last year he did two quad toe loops. This year, he landed his first quad Salchow after Challenge. And it’s so consistent, he’s confident about putting it in the long program for the first time in competition. He changed his skates, he said and “boom, I got it.
“Maybe I just wanted to get something, to stay in the game.”
At the end of the day, Messing and Nguyen are friends who both feel the pressure of having only one spot to shoot for at the world championships in Montreal in March. One of them won’t get it. “Of course, there’s pressure,” Messing said. “You’ve got one of the most amazing competitors who is the reigning national champion,” he said, nodding to Nguyen.
“I don’t know any insults I’m allowed to say,” Messing said, once he had caught Nguyen’s attention.
“I dare you,” Nguyen said.
Replied Messing: “You’re one of the strongest competitors I know and so that definitely puts pressure on for worlds. But I’ve got to say, I came here to skate and put everything on the ice, and even if this guy comes in front of me, I know worlds is in good hands.”
“Thanks, bud,” Nguyen replied. There were hugs.