Madeline Schizas is a smart cookie.
After she won her first Canadian title, and is poised to become an Olympian, her biggest goal has less to do with putting a blade to ice than self-preservation. “My biggest goal is to avoid catching COVID,” she said Saturday after decidedly winning by 27.59 points. “That’s my biggest goal for the next three weeks. I’ll do everything in my power to stay healthy.”
She was the only skater in the final group to wear a mask in warmup for the free skate.
She’s a very logical person, she says. A couple of years ago, she thought her chances of going to the Olympics were slim. And when it became clear that Canada had only one spot for women, Schizas didn’t think a lot of people expected that she would be the one to take the spot.
She hasn’t been nominated yet. That should happen today. She doesn’t like to get ahead of herself. She knows she’s from a smaller club in Milton, Ont. She doesn’t have a coach (Nancy Lemaire) that has done this sort of thing before. She and Lemaire have known each other since Schizas was a young girl. They have a great relationship. Lemaire has delivered an athlete with steady resolve and confidence.
Schizas has goals and they are not pie in the sky. She wanted to break 200, and she almost did on Saturday, finishing with 198.24. Her free skate on Saturday was more of a slog than usual, but still she won with 126.19 points, 14.89 points more than anybody else. Her technical points alone were 8.48 points higher than 27-year-old veteran Veronik Mallet, who took the silver medal. A frustrated Gabby Daleman, former Canadian champion, took the bronze medal with 109.02 for the free and 167.50 overall.
In the free, Schizas made an unscheduled turn in the midst of her triple Lutz – triple toe loop combo – one of only two Canadian women to muster that one. The Canadian champion of two years ago, Emily Bausback, landed one in her free, but finished 11th in the free and ninth overall.
A foot went down on a triple flip, but Schizas sailed on, skating to Madame Butterfly.
Yes, Madame Madeline had bobbles, but she kept her head in the game. “I’ve done this program so many times,” she said. “We run a lot of programs at home. We run them in sections. We run the whole thing. If I make mistakes in practice, I know how to recover from them and what to do next.”
But to be honest, she says, she hasn’t made a lot of mistakes in the program for a long time.
“That was a worse program than I normally skate at home,” she said.
The 18-year-old won a bronze medal two years ago, the last time Canada staged a skating championship. At the time, she was a sprite and a surprise. What she has gained most importantly since then is confidence. Her coach knew she could do it before then.
She was in the audience when Joannie Rochette competed in the short program at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. She must have been all of seven years old. “Of course, that was an inspiring moment. And it’s one I’ll never forget,” she said. “I’ll never forget the electricity of the Olympics.”
Yes, she dreamed of the Olympics, but never thought of it as the “be-all and end-all” of her skating career. “I saw the moments along the way as what I was really doing this for,” she said. Her best friends she has made through skating. Some have moved on. They have kept in touch.
Coach Lemaire has done a splendid job of showing Schizas that it’s more important to focus on the journey rather than the outcome. In Lemaire’s school, she is a person, not just an athlete. “I think that’s the biggest difference between me and a lot of people,” she said.
Mallet took the silver medal without being perfect in the free, but it was her highest placing after having been third twice, in 2015 and 2019. She perhaps could have done more but she fractured her right foot in October of 2016 and missed two seasons because of it. When she returned, she reaggravated the fracture and had to withdraw from a Skate Canada.
She didn’t start to reintroduce flips in her program again until the 2019-20 season. She still has not brought back the Lutz. She does a mean triple loop.
Bronze medalist Gabby Daleman hasn’t been the same since falling and hitting her head before her first event in the 2018-2019 season. She had been a world bronze medalist the previous season in Helsinki.
A flurry of health problems took her off the ice for two years. COVID hasn’t helped. She was dropped from the national team this season and has fought to regain respect.
Skating to “Samson and Delilah” Daleman finished the free skate in tears after downgrading her signature triple toe loop – triple toe loop to a triple-double. She stepped out of a triple Lutz. She fell on a triple loop. She doubled another Lutz. Still, she kept fighting, earning 109.02 for the free and 167.50, which kept her safely in third place.
“Disappointment doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel,” she said after the free skate. “That wasn’t even heart-breaking. That was heart-shattering.
“I didn’t miss a jump in practice. I didn’t miss a jump in warmup….I didn’t perform to even half of what I’m capable of.”
Michelle Long, 29, also burst into tears at the end of her routine, but for different reasons. She had never placed higher than fifth at a Canadian championships, but she was fourth overall, about six points behind Daleman.
“I got off the ice and I’m crying and I’m happy and I have butterflies in my stomach right now,” she said.
Her goal was to skate two clean programs. They weren’t clean, but they were beautiful and emotional. “But I’m so over the moon thrilled that we could even have this event and I could be here and I could perform,” she said. “I have accomplished more than I ever imagined.”
She said she’s thankful for so many things in her life, aside from skating. The uncertainty of the past two years isn’t lost on her, but she said she’s been working “as an adult” to figure out her steps forward and “create a positive network of people around me.”
She works as a coach. She is finishing up an undergrad degree, and has applied to McMaster for a Masters program. She coaches fitness. She’s also recently become engaged. “There are a lot of things in my life that I am excited for,” she said.
She doesn’t know if this will be her last event. She’s talked about it as if it is. She’s talked about it as if it isn’t. “It changes every single moment,” she said. “And I wouldn’t be 29 years old here and competing if I didn’t love it.”
She’s been a senior women’s competitor for 11 seasons. This is her seventh senior nationals. “I am just excited to see the opportunities that are in my future,” she said.
This season may be the end of an era for Canadian figure skating, and perhaps the start of another. There are many people like Michelle Long. And hopefully more like Schizas.