This new Madeline Schizas floats.
The two-time Canadian champion looks different this year. It’s the arms, the hands, the head, the feet, the body. Something in the way she moves. She’s taken a step like Joannie Rochette took a step a year or two before the Vancouver Olympics, when suddenly she changed from a competent skater to a compelling one. You couldn’t take your eyes off her.
In her first Grand Prix this season – Skate Canada International in Vancouver – Schizas showed what she is made of, not in the short program – where she said she got her lowest senior sort-program score ever – but in the way she rallied in the free skate, as if she had changed clothes entirely.
Mired in eighth place after the short program, she finished second in the free behind the brilliant world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, (that meant she also defeated Chaeyeon Kim, who won the free skate at the past world championships, ahead of Sakamoto). And she finished fourth overall, ahead of Rinka Watanabe, who won Skate Canada last year.
Schizas was very angry at herself for her mistake in the short -singling an Axel, which gave her no points for that element. “It was really costly,” she said. “I didn’t miss something big. I missed something silly. But it is what it is.”
She said she was able to put it behind her. And she was able to see her parents, who are from Milton. Ont. “That also helped me,” she said. “My parents don’t care so much about my skating and just want to see me happy.”
She got a standing ovation for her triumphant free performance to “Summertime,” sung by the originals: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. “It felt amazing,” she said.
None of this has come without frank examination of where Schizas has been and where she needs to go and why. It has taken a lot of driving around Ontario. It has taken a lot of work. It’s working. It hasn’t come with the waving of a wand, and wishing it to be so.
“I knew I wanted a change after last season,” she said. “What that change was going to be, I didn’t know. I just wanted to work with new people.” She chose dance choreographers.
After last season, Schizas just wasn’t fulfilled. “Last year was not great,” she admitted. “It was kind of rough from start to finish. There were some good pieces. Worlds was a highlight for me. [She finished 13th, after being 16th in the short program and roaring back to be 11th in the free.] There were definitely some good moments but on the whole, it didn’t go the way I wanted it to.”
So she came off the Stars On Ice tour, and she figured, if she was going to continue in this sport, she had to be better. “I’m really good at coming 12th and 13th at worlds,” she said. “I’ve done it three times. [13th in 2021, 12th in 2022, 13th in 2023) . So if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right.
“I want to move up. Some of that is technical but I also knew that part of being a mature skater, a real senior skater, as opposed to fitting in with that 16and 17-year-old group, is working on my program components and my skating skills. And choosing programs that are mature. And kind of reflect who I am as a person now.”
That quest occupied much of her off-season. She spent a lot of time on the road to London, Ont. From her Milton, Ont. Home because she chose the best ice dancer she could find to design her short program and help her out in the artistic way: Scott Moir, as well as Madison Hubbell and Adrian Diaz, who work in his school, an extension of the Ice Academy of Montreal.
Schizas wanted to skate to Latin music, but it was fast and it “would have taken a lot for me to get to the point where I was comfortable doing it,” she said. As a group, the Moir bunch and Schizas settled on Spanish, ie. “Farrucas,” a tried and true piece that they had all skated to, at one time (but had not choreographed it.) There’s nothing like the Pepe Romero touch to this flamenco. The Londoners added “Solea Grana,” just to make it right.
“I like it a lot because it’s very mature,” said Schizas, a McMaster student. “It’s very thoughtful. The whole program from start to finish was very thoughtful and it’s really designed in a way to highlight my strengths. It’s very crisp, the choreography.”
She went to Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs in Scarborough, Ont., to do her free to “Summertime.” She’s thrilled with what she has.
“I can’t say enough for both sets of choreographers,” she said. “The ice dancers look at every piece of music in the program to make it a cohesive fit. It’s not that singles choreographers don’t do that, but when you go to dance choreographers, they are tough with you until you get it right. And I appreciate that.”
Moir’s school is a happy, laughing place, but strict about getting things right. The end product is a juicy bit of art, interesting at every step.
Schizas has also tackled consistency, which she hopes will help her get into the top 10. When she skates programs the way she can, she scores very well. She won the short program at Skate Canada last year. “My tech stuff is there, when I can get it done,” she said. She thought about adding a second flip or Lutz this year, but decided against it, feeling that what she has – if she does it properly – will take her where she needs to go.
“I just need to do it all the time,” she said. “It’s not an issue of adding. It’s not an issue of changing. It’s an issue of doing.”
She tested her work at the Nepela Memorial Trophy in Bratislava a few weeks ago, and impressed. She went toe to toe with skaters ranked above her and fared extremely well. The contest was between four other top-10 ranked skaters. Chaeyeon Lee, a very young South Korean, 6th at the world championships last season, won the event, while Haein Lee, the world silver medalists (who actually won the free skate at worlds over Kaori Sakamoto of Japan) was second, Schizas third overall.
Schizas had finished second in the short program with a clean skate and dropped to fourth in the free with a couple of bobbles. But her component scores were within hundredths of points of Kim and Lee. And so were her technical points in the free.
Overall, Schizas finished with 2.22 points behind the winner. Ekaterina Kurakova of Poland and Young You, the triple Axel queen, from South Korea, were also in the field.
“When I went to that first event, I felt really confident of my training,” Schizas said. “I did feel like I was going to skate well, but I wasn’t sure how my programs were going to be received, how perhaps my components were going to be scored.”
In the short program, Schizas got the third highest component marks, but basically her scores were tied with Kim and Lee. Kim had 30.38 component marks, Lee had 30.79 and Schizas earned 30.52. Young You had 30.19.
She said she also got great feedback from the judging panel, especially on the performance and interpretation side.
She thinks she’s improved the most on her skating skills. Skate Canada has been a good place to test all of that. She’ll have three days at home before she heads off to her next Grand Prix in China.