Maybe it’s not such a good idea to scoff at a thirtysomething long-retired former skater, a whisp of a woman, when she decides she wants to carry on.
Now 40, Deanna Stellato Dudek and teamed up with powerhouse Maxime Deschamps, is Canada’s top pair and aiming at the pair short program tonight at the Skate Canada International in Vancouver.
She’s aware of the hubbub around her. Forty and doing this high-risk sport? She and Deschamps have set out to claw their way to the top. After a breakthrough season in 2022-23, she and Deschamps took a look at the pairs ranked above them and figured out how to defeat them. Not match them. Defeat them. The second oldest pair woman at Skate Canada is 24.
Stellato Dudek, the 2000 world junior silver medalist in women’s singles, off the map for 16 years, came to Canada and joined forces with Deschamps in 2019, just as the COVID pandemic was getting into gear. Their first two years together were mired in lockdowns.
But last season was a breakthrough. The pair won the Nebelhorn Trophy, then astonished everybody when they finished second at Skate America. And then they won Grand Prix de France, even though she was ill. That got them to the Grand Prix Final, but Stellato Dudek was suffering from a severe respiratory ailment that hampered training, competing, being a person just wanting to do things.
With all of that, they finished fourth at their first world championships together in Saitama, Japan. What next?
She doesn’t reflect on what happened last season. “I don’t look back,” she said. “I only look forward. The only way I look back is who is in front of me and why and what do I need to do to run faster than them.”
In her eyes, she saw that the world champions, Rika Miura and Riyuichi Kihara of Japan, were the fastest of all the teams. “So if we want to run with them, we have to run faster than them,” Stellato Dudek said. “We can’t be at the same speed, because we’ll just keep giving it to them. We have to run faster.”
With the bit in her teeth, she and Deschamps focused over the summer at increasing their power and speed. In September, they won the Autumn Classic International in Montreal, and defeated the Japanese team, although they did not look ready. The Canadian champs were steam rollers, doing most difficult tricks with power and speed.
The motivation, among many things? The world championships in Montreal. “This is where Max was born, where his first language was that he learned,” she said. Most people don’t realize it, but Deschamps did not learn to speak English until he was in his twenties.
“This is a home worlds unlike any other,” she said. “We want to come out on top. So we are chasing the top.”
The upstart third-place team at worlds in Saitama was the Italian team of Sara Conti and Niccolo Maccii. “They are very consistent,” Stellato Dudek said. “So that is something we worked on as well.”
Stellato Dudek/Deschamps scrambled to make all the changes they needed. And they didn’t have a lot of time. Their last season extended longer than usual. Usually they start training in June, but last June they had just started to make programs. “It has been a challenge to acclimate to those new changes,” Deschamps said.
Known for their exceedingly difficult lifts, Stellato Dudek and Deschamps have changed them all but one. They are even harder, with even more unique positions. “I know the one we do in the star position, you are not going to see from anybody,” she said. “Both people have to be good at lifts for this to be done.” The balance point, she said, is minute. There is no room for error on it. “We’re excited to offer that, but not just offer it, but do it well with lots of speed and flow coming out.”
She said her partner has some of the best footwork in the world. The rules continue to get harder, but more limited on what they can do and still be level four. This team has to take all of them into account.
The trajectory of their throws is higher, they have bigger everything.
There is a definite push to be unique, to excel, to do something that is theirs alone.
Their goal this season was to hit a total score of 200, which they have already done at Autumn Classic. (203.62) They have been working even harder since. Next on the horizon is getting to 210-215.
“It is always a score we want to reach,” Deschamps said. “The only person we compete against is ourselves. Whatever the other ones do, we have no control. “
Stellato-Dudek said they had more success last season with their short program than with the free, which was always riddled with multiple mistakes. They still scored decently. They would like to have cleaner longs with fewer mistakes and then see what their scores could be.
She says she doesn’t think she and Deschamps are any different from any other competitors, except for that age thing.
“The pendulum swings both ways for me,” she said. “I am celebrated when I do well, and I am criticized harder when I don’t. So the standard for me is higher because of my age.
“I think that I don’t mind my age being a focal point because it is unique. And I think there’s a lot for people that celebrate it and that are happy to see me continuing and happy to see me being successful.
And I think there are some that are not. I know there are some that are not.
But she just wants support and their respect. “I still want to go out there and do a good job. So that I’m a contender no matter what my age is. “