Finally, the world knows who Keegan Messing is, now that he’s turned 26.
He’s a light-footed dazzler, with a penchant for rotating jumps at the speed of a tornado, and he has a collection of heart-thumping spins, to boot. If he slips and falls on anything, he has a way of skating back into an upright position, sort of like those punching bags that roll right back up in the next beat. He’s irrepressible. And he has enviable skating skills, too.
And he’s always the guy that is the bearer of smiles and pleasure: he skates to things like the “Pink Panther,” “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life,” “Singing in the Rain,” Charlie Chaplin.” And now this year, he’ll be skating a short program to “You’ve Got A Friend in Me.” Why are we not surprised?
Messing won a medal – a silver – at the Canadian championships for the first time last season, and that effort launched him into a 12th-place finish at his first Olympics. And his world championship debut was something else: he finished sixth in the short program to end up eighth overall. Most importantly, he left a lasting impression.
So what’s a guy to do after a year like that, especially since he’s 26? “That question is the one we’re trying to answer right now,” he said at the GTSA Summer Skate this month. “I made the Olympic team, and I made worlds, and it was like those gigantic goals that I’ve had for 10 years finally come true. Well, the Olympics has been a goal longer than 10 years. But I’ve had these dreams for countless years and they finally came true.
“I got to put the maple leaf on my back. I got to represent Canada. It was this amazing experience,” he said. “And you come home and you’re like: ‘Now what?’”
Obviously he’s decided to continue, and the plan is to battle along for another two years, see how he feels at the end of it, before deciding on another two. “See if I want to push two more years to the next Olympics, or if I want to stop,” he said.
“We really answered that with another question: ‘What do I want to be doing at 30?’ Because at the next Olympics, I’ll be 30. And I don’t know yet if I want to be skating at 30. So I’ll go for two years and see if I still want to be doing this. And push for the next Olympics, hopefully. Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that I can push for the next Olympics.”
However, if he doesn’t love what he’s doing any more, and if he feels he doesn’t love the sport, it’s not worth it to him any more, he said. “One of my biggest joys about this is to be able to express my love of the sport to the audience,” he said. “That’s one of my favourite things. And if I stop doing that, it’s not worth it.”
The biggest thing right now is to have fun, he said. And keep having fun. It’s so Keegan.
And yes, he continues to push. He flirted with a quad Lutz earlier last season, then put it away as things got serious. But it’s back again. He tried it in his free program at Summer Skate and stumbled on it, although he landed a perfect one in the warmup, and the little crowd at the Scotiabank Pond erupted.
“After worlds, even during worlds and after the Olympics, we really started working on Lutz again,” he said. “We’ve actually got the quad Lutz pretty danged consistent so far. It is on a slight little down right now, but three weeks ago, I was landing it every day. It’s still a new jump for me. We’re expecting to hit the highs and the lows. Hopefully we’ll hit the highs on competition and the lows, not at competition.”
And then there’s that quad Axel, the new frontier. And Messing is walking into the ether of it. Messing says he and coach Ralph Burghart are “joking around with it.”
“It’s scary but it’s cool,” he said. “I haven’t tried it out of the belt yet, but we’re really hoping that we can work it out of the belt this year.”
And here’s what he really thinks: “It is the most scariest thing I’ve ever had to pull in on on skates,” he said. Mind you, the back flip was scarier, with his head inches from the ice. “I’ve landed on my face on that one, twice,” he said.
However, he has it figured out the back flip to the point that he can miss his takeoff and still get around. He feels confident doing it. But it took him four to five times in the harness to actually pull in on the quad Axel, because it was so scary.
When he started on the quad Axel, he was working on it three days a week, but now he’s backed off on it, with competition season coming up. ‘We’re hoping to go right back into it, and working on it again,” he said.
The hardest thing about the quad Lutz or the quad Axel is to NOT focus on the rotation. “If you’re just trying to rotate, you don’t jump. But if you jump too much, you don’t rotate,” Messing said. “It’s trying to find that perfect balance between jumping and rotating and finding that perfect balance to be able to spin at a ridiculous amount of speed.”
There is a rhythm to each jump, he said. Once you figure out the rhythm and the rotation, the confidence comes.
The fun part is his new programs. Choreographer Lance Vipond found the music for Messing’s short program. “He has his vision and he has a way of capturing it,” Messing said. “As soon as he really showed it to me and I listened to it, it was: ‘This is cool.’”
He’s keeping the Charlie Chaplain free skate, although he’s had to tweak it to accommodate new rules. And he’s keeping it because “It’s such a fun program.” He’s switching spin positions around and he’ll move a couple of jumps to the beginning of the routine, jumps that had been at the end. And he’ll see how it goes.
He had to make all of the changes without Vipond for the Summer Skate competition because there wasn’t really time to do it while they were focusing on the short program over the summer. “It’s good enough for here,” Messing said. “But we’re really hoping to bring back the charm of Charlie Chaplain for the Grand Prix Circuit. “ (He does Skate Canada International and the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow.)
In the two weeks between the Toronto competition and the high-performance training camp in next-door Mississauga, Ont., Messing has stayed in the area to work with Vipond in Brantford, Ont. Messing hasn’t seen him since they created the short program. The short program has improved with training, but Messing says they have to enhance every movement.
And it’s easier on the mind and body and training not to trip back and forth to Alaska. The Summer Skate competition at the start of his stay is useful, because he can find out what’s going right and what’s not and make all changes necessary before he’s monitored at the camp.
His short program at the Summer Skate was stunning, earning him a whopping 97. 97 points. Messing’s previous highest short-program score was the 93.00 he earned at the world championships. However, none of the scores of the past will be comparable to scores given out from now on because of the changes in the grade of execution, from -5 to +5, instead of -3 to +3. All of the old marks are now called “historical.” Everybody starts from zero now.
Still, Messing sizzled in Toronto. He let fly a quad toe loop – triple toe loop that earned him GOEs of mostly +4s and +5s, good for 17.50 points.
Because of the rule changes, both Messing and Nguyen each have only three jumps past the half-way point in their free skates.
Messing struggled in the free skating, underrotating his quad Lutz, and a quad toe, singling a couple of others. But a summer competition is supposed to be only the first step. What was most astonishing was how well skated Nam Nguyen’s free program was.
Since Keegan’s emergence at the world championships and Olympics, his life, he said, has been “cool.”
The biggest change is the recognition he gets, particularly in Canada, although not so much in Alaska, which gets U.S. networks that don’t show him as much as Canadian ones. When he went to a friend’s wedding in Rossland, B.C., which is up high in the Kootenay Mountains, he ended up becoming the guest star. Like a movie star.
“Everybody was like: ‘Oh I watched you at the Olympics, it was so cool.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, that was different.” I never see that, by me living in Alaska.”
When he returns home to Alaska, his girlfriend keeps his ego in check, and his feet on the ground. And Messing continues being Messing. And that’s a good thing.