Perhaps we can’t technically call Madeline Schizas a Canadian champion. The national championships were cancelled. But effectively, she is, after her decisive win Saturday in the Skate Canada Challenge. The Challenge is all we’ve got to figure out who is tops in the country right now.
Schizas, 17, won the women’s event at Challenge with a score of 175.65 points, 7.33 points ahead of Alison Schumacher with 168.12. Former Canadian champion Gabby Daleman was third, with 165.66. Last year’s champion Emily Bausback finished eighth with 149.38 points.
Little Kaiya Ruiter, only 14, who had led after the short program, ended up fourth overall, after a troubled free skate that had her in seventh place. This was her first season as a senior, after setting a scoring record when she won the junior title at first crack last year.
Schizas was the Canadian bronze medalist last year in her first season as a senior. But she proved, that even under lockdown and out-of-control situations, that it is possible to thrive and improve. This season, she added a powerful combination – the triple Lutz – triple toe loop to her arsenal, a technical improvement needed to make any kind of mark internationally.
But it wasn’t always easy. “There have been ups and downs,” she said. During the lockdowns of the first wave, Schizas’ coaches Nancy Lemaire and Derek Schmidt sent her workouts to do every day. “At least when I got back on the ice, I wouldn’t say I was much worse off than I was before physically,” she said. “I was still in good shape and I did a lot of off-ice jumping, so I actually improved. When I got back on the ice, it was all about just getting my feet back under me a little bit and getting the confidence back.”
Fortunately, her training situation in Milton, Ont., was stable throughout the summer and fall. By August, she figures she was back to what she had been before in times before lockdowns and isolation. “It took me two months to really feel like I was ready to start adding new items,” she said. “It’s definitely been possible to progress.”
The videos for Challenge were taped on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3. But in December, her facility closed because it’s a public arena, and it was a tough ask to keep it open for only two elite skaters. It left Schizas and her teammate Lia Pereira, who finished third in junior women last weekend, searching for ice.
For a time, she skated at an outdoor rink in Hamilton, Ont. Even if she could find ice, the hourly rate was astronomical, too high a price to pay for spinning and stroking when she could find refrigerated outside ice for free.
Fortunately, the Hamilton city council approved the two to skate on indoor ice in Hamilton. She is also able to get ice time at the York Region Skating Academy, where Roman Sadovsky trains. It’s designated as an elite training centre. “Huge thanks to those clubs for having me and my teaamate,” she said. “I’m grateful to skate at all at this point.” The outdoor ice had been quite cold. And training on that ice surface is not comparable to training in a proper centre. “It was a stop gap,” she said
Day to day, her training has been different from anything she has ever experienced. “But ultimately, if you are willing to put in the effort and the focus, you can make good progress in any situation, if you are just willing to really buckle down and work hard,” she said.
Buckle down she did. She added that triple Lutz in early fall. She had been working on it in training for a couple of seasons, but just never felt confident in her ability to do it in competition under pressure. “I’m the kind of person that I like to know that I’m going to land what I put out there,” she said. “So I nevr skate programs where it could be a disaster. I like to feel confident about what I’m going to skate with the elements that I do.”
When she got back onto the ice, she improved her basic skating skills, because it wasn’t wise to just jump into program run-throughs. She feels her basic skating has improved even more in the past six weeks after the video was shot.
Schizas was to go to Skate Canada International in late October, but when it was cancelled, too, she worked on putting a triple toe loop onto the end of the triple Lutz. On Saturday, she landed the combo in the free skate. That earned her 10.45 points in one fell swoop. She won’t stop there. Next season, she’ll begin working on a triple Axel and a quad.
She and her coaches and choreographer Asher Hill (who has designed four routines for her) reworked the choreography of her free skate to the “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” So the program has improved in every aspect since the video taping. “It’s too bad there’s no nationals to show it at,” she said.
Although she kept her short program from last season, her free program is new. She wanted a slower number, to make it easier to incorporate more difficult, new elements. “It’s really hard to pick music,” she said. “My coach and I often have different opinions on what would be a good choice. But when we both heard this specific piece, we were on the same page pretty quickly,” she said.
She was inspired to tackle the “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” because she had seen Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skate it in 2008. She found a version of the music that was recorded more recently: it starts without instrumentation, in quietness, before it launches into full orchestration.
She skates to the song “I Will Wait for You,” from the movie, but after she watched it, she felt disappointed. “She doesn’t actually wait for him,” she said. “She actually ditches him.” But it’s a lovely thought and the music holds up, beautifully.
So she watched Challenge on a sofa at home with her parents and the family dog. Finishing first was a bit step for Schizas. “I knew I had skated well, but I didn’t know how anyone else did,” she said. “It was really hard to say where I thought I was going to finish.”
But ultimately, the most important aspect of her performance was to show the improvements she ahd made, and how much she had leaned even since sectionals, and certainly since the past national championship. “In very way, I’ve made progress, so the finish really wasn’t the end-all and be-all. It was certainly not to finish first.”
Schizas will continue to train, but doesn’t know what will come next. Will the world championship in Sweden actually take place? The International Skating Union meets at the end of the month to talk about it. If it decides to go ahead with it, Skate Canada will make its own decision in February about whether or not it is safe to send a team.
In October, Canada was removed from a list of countries eligible to travel into European Union countries, because coronavirus numbers began to spike upwards.
Nobody has a lot of information yet on the protocols that will be offered in Sweden at the event. Schizas doesn’t know how she would feel about boarding a plane right now: she’d have to know those protocols. But she very much wants to go to the world championships and hopes Skate Canada would assign her to it, if all goes ahead.
“But all I can do is keep training, as if I am going to worlds,” she said. “Worst case scenario, I’ll be just in really good shape. All of these things are out of my hands at this point.”