One thing leads to another. Keegan Messing finished fifth at the Canadian championships last season. That landed him on the national team. That meant he got some financial help for training. And it means that this season, he is actually a full-time skater.
All of these upticks in his personal situation rolled into his quad Lutz attempt in the free program at the Thornhill Summer Skate last week. Alas, he underrotated it and fell. But undoubtedly, the 25-year-old who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, feels pressured to always step it up. And now he has time to work on it.
Last year, when Messing didn’t qualify for national financing, he worked as a stock room boy at Pier One Imports in Anchorage. “I got to pick things up and put them down. Over and over, up ladders,” he said.
He was the only “official” stock room worker at this business. “So I was walking up 12-foot ladders with Lazy Boy couches on my shoulder,” he said. Don’t forget he stands 5-foot-4 in his socks.
By himself, he would lug dressers and 100-pound boxes on his shoulders up the ladders to stock the stock room.
“I’m very comfortable with myself on a ladder,” said the man with the daredevil way about him. But he felt uncomfortable about being alone trying to do these monumentally physical tasks.
The money from Skate Canada allowed him to quit. “I’ve been happier ever since,” he said.
Instead, he courts danger with quad jumps, all too necessary these days.
He’s worked very hard on this quad Lutz, which seems to have become the jump de jour on the men’s circuit. He has landed it. “Going into such a difficult jump, it’s not really the fall that scares you,” he said. “But the possibility of what could break.”
At Thornhill in the free, Messing had planned three quads. The first four jumps out of the gate had more than three rotations.
“We’re not playing anymore,” said his coach, Ralph Burghart. “This is serious.”
But Messing is answering the call. He won the short program at Thornhill with 84.91 points, a slight improvement on his score at Skate Detroit (84.56.) It was encouraging. Both skates were clean, including a quad toe loop – triple toe loop, all ablur. “My second 84,” he said. “I keep all of my components on the phone so I can compare, competition to competition.”
On the heels of routines like “Pink Panther” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” (Thank you, Monty Python), Messing will now be able to present two new programs. The nod to Monty Python had lasted three seasons, “Pink Panther”, two. The new music that has carried him to his two early season top efforts is “Singing In the Rain.” He conjures up Charlie Chaplain for his free. And don’t these choices suit him?
“I’ve had this idea for ‘Singing in the Rain’ for probably 10 years now,” Messing said. “We always wanted to save the program for a good year. We waited last year to have it this year, so the plan was to have it Olympic year. And I’ve always loved it. I love Gene Kelly’s version of it. And I loved Kurt Browning doing it. Kurt Browning was probably the biggest inspiration to do ‘Singing in the Rain.’”
Messing says there are three or four direct hints of Kelly’s gregarious stepping in his new short program. He kicks up water. He dances on a curb. He dances with an umbrella. (Browning did this, too.) Lance Vipond, as choreographer, showed him the way.
“We had such a blast doing it,” Messing said. “We had so much energy going into this program, we actually had to go back and tone it down, because the energy level was through the roof. “
Okay, Vipond said. There’s no way you are going this fast into footwork. The week after Thornhill, Messing remained in Toronto to work with Vipond, to revamp the program and bump the footwork level up to a solid four. (He got a level three in Thornhill.)
He’s so happy to have found Vipond, who also has done choreography for world silver medalist Kaetlyn Osmond. He and Vipond work well together.
Messing doesn’t know where the idea germinated to do Charlie Chaplain. “I think somebody kind of said it in a joking fashion and I started looking into it a little bit.”
“It’s his character,” Burghart said.
Although the routine is heavy on the elements, it has a fun feel, Messing said. “I just hope I can continue breathing through it, or my legs will continue working for me. When I skated it at Skate Detroit, I wasn’t training hard enough then, and kind of realized it before the competition. But I’ve been picking up the training.” It’s still pre-season.
Yes, all the kids are pushing him. He finished second at Skate Detroit behind American Vincent Zhou, who is only 16, has a devastating arsenal and who has already taken a silver medal at the U.S. SENIOR championships.
“All these kids are pushing the envelope,” Messing said. “They’re pushing us old guys around.”
Told that Conrad Orzel has been training all of the quads, save the Axel, Messing said: “Who is Conrad?”
Well, Orzel is Canada’s junior silver medalist. At 17, he’s going for the gusto, as one must in this quad-crazy time. Coach Eva Najarro says he’s landed all of the quads: flip, Lutz, loop, toe loop and Salchow, but attempted two quads at Thornhill in the free to figure out how to plot the remainder of the season. Last year, he did only one quad.
Orzel competed at the junior level at Thornhill, and didn’t attempt a quad in the short, but actually attempted three quads in the free. And just as Elvis Stojko has often said: there will be falls when inserting new difficult jumps into a program. Orzel doubled a Salchow, underrotated a quad toe loop and fell, tried the quad toe loop again, but couldn’t get it into a combination. Result for the early ambition: three falls. But it’s an early season test. It’s what Thornhill is for.
Orzel hit 71.41 points in the short program – which he won – and that’s what he was looking for. He hopes to get into the eighties by season’s end. He noted that he’s used to training on an Olympic sized rink at the York Region Skating Academy, but the ice surface at Thornhill was far smaller. It took him by surprise. “I totally couldn’t do my footwork, and the music, I had to turn it around,” he said. “I learned from this, to adjust to different rinks and check out the size of the rink, maybe train with less ice surface.”
Earlier this summer, Orzel spent some time with Rafael Arutunian to work on new quads, and try to spark up the ones he had. “I think my quads are getting along quite well,” he said. He’s landed quad Lutz, but took it out of Thornhill to focus on the performance aspect of the program, not the quads. He hopes to add in quad Lutz by the end of the season. He did try the quad Lutz at Minto Skate, and officials deemed he had rotated it.
Orzel will be going to Junior Grand Prix events in Austria and Poland. He’d like to make the finals.
So yes, the challenges are coming from everywhere, Keegan.
Nguyen, once fifth in the world, has gone through an unsettled period, and has changed coaches twice, now skating at the York Region Skating Academy alongside Orzel and Roman Sadovsky. Sadovsky said the atmosphere is now very competitive at the rink. “There’s a healthy competitiveness,” he said.
In warmup for the short program, Nguyen let sail a fabulous quad toe loop and quad Salchow. However, in the actual performance, he fell on a quad Salchow and did a quad toe – double toe. The 78.51 he got was enough to put him second behind Messing. In the free, he did only a triple toe loop, put a hand down on a quad Salchow, accomplished a triple Axel that seemed telegraphed, and then let fly for the rest of the “American in Paris” routine. He says he feels his technique is settling now. “I kind of did my job,” he said of the short. “It wasn’t the best but a step up from Minto.”
Sadovsky has left behind the Junior Grand Prix for this season and is entirely a senior. “[Coach Tracey Wainman] is not letting me slack off, for sure,” he said.
This season, Sadovsky has bravely inserted a quad Salchow – triple toe loop combination into his short program, but at Thornhill, turned after both elements. He did two quad Salchows during the free, the first one getting +2s across the board, the second one in combination, but doing several turns after the Salchow. He says he’s changed the technique of his Salchow, and although he started to do it differently toward the end of last season, it wasn’t ready enough to really shine. Now he’s improved it.
And the triple Axel, the jump that has always been his nemesis? “It’s getting better,” he said. He landed it in the short program in Thornhill, although he stepped out of it. And he landed the first one in the long, with a turn. He singled the second one.
Sadovsky has lived through some growth spurts, but feels all of that growing has really slowed down. Good thing. He’s pushing six feet tall. “I don’t even know if it was the growth,” that caused inconsistency of the past few years, he said. “Now it’s not like everything is changing every day. Some weeks I would be good. Some weeks it would be worse. I would just feel different.”
Right now, he feels more stabilized and is looking forward to the rest of the season. All in all, he’s had a good start to the season, more encouraging than last when his efforts were up and down. At Minto Skate, he won the short program with a quad Salchow-triple toe loop, and he finished a close second in the free, with his quad Salchow-triple toe loop gaining 16.80 points.
“I can use this as a tool to work off of,” he said of Thornhill.
And there are more Canadian men working hard to step up in the years that will follow the retirement of stalwarts like Patrick Chan and Kevin Reynolds. Iliya Kovler finished fifth among junior men at the national skating championships last year. But he’s determined.
Iliya Kovler Skate Canada photo
At Thornhill, Kovler finished second in both the short and long programs in the junior competition and second overall. There isn’t a triple Axel in the picture yet, but he’s only 14.
He looks up to Yuzuru Hanyu, Patrick Chan and “of course I like Nathan Chen’s quads, yeah!” he said.
He’s currently working on all the quads and the triple Axel in the harness to prevent injury. He started work on the triple Axel last February, after the national championships. “Quads have always been on and off,” he said. “I’ve tried a couple of toes, and Sals, but I’ve never really done it every day. My main goal is to get the triple Axel. And when I get the triple Axel, I can work on the quads.”
He’s going through a growing spurt, which may not be helping. “He’s growing every single month,” said coach/choreographer Andrei Berezintsev. “That’s why it’s difficult to keep him in shape, in balance. But he’s very engaged in doing the difficult jumps. The triple Axel is very close.”
When Berezintsev and Inga Zusev first saw Kovler, they saw an artistic skater, physical weak. “That was fun, because he had already tried some stuff with arms and upper body, to be an artist on the ice,” Berezintsev said. “He couldn’t handle the technical stuff. “
But he’s a quick learner and wants to do everything right immediately. “For him, mistakes are unacceptable,” Berezintsev said. “He starts thinking, what should I do, do more. And sometimes it’s too much.
“He’s kind of special.”
Kovler’s parents were both born in Ukraine, but he was born in Canada. He focused on skating after trying hockey, basketball and soccer. “I love the speed and I love the jumps,” said the artist. “I like learning new jumps. I like spinning. Just everything about figure skating.”
His free skate is to “Carmen.” He really wanted to do it. “Super classic,” he said. Yes, he is special.
The other factor in the junior men’s event at Thornhill was reigning Canadian men’s novice champion Corey Circelli, who skates out of the Toronto Cricket Curling and Skating Club in Toronto. As a first-year junior, he held his own, finishing third to Orzel, and actually winning the free skate. He ended with a Toller-like pose, bending his body back to touch the ice.
Was Toller’s flamboyant style an influence on this routine? “Definitely,” Circelli said. David Wilson designed the program and “there’s a lot of that stuff,” Circelli said. “Toller is more his era. But I find a lot of those little choreography pieces in the program and I really like it.”
Circelli also doubles as an ice dancer with Katerina Kasatkin, and together they are jumping to junior as well. They were 10th in junior dance at Minto Skate. He and Kasatkin were winners of a Toller Cranston Memorial Fund Award after the Canadian championships last season, celebrating novice or junior skaters who display exceptional artistry. Circelli also got recognition as a singles skater. They got a free pair of boots and blades.
Last year, Circelli skated to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” in the short program. But Wilson had finished choreographing it without vocals. Two days later, the ISU allowed vocals. “We were like: ‘Whatever. We’ll just have to wait until next year,’” Circelli said.
So at last, Circelli is now skating this season to “Hallelujah” with vocals for his short program, and he’s using his favourite version by Jeff Buckley.
In the long, he’s skating to “La Boheme” as he did last year, but Wilson has changed the last half entirely.
This year, Circelli said he’s really been pushing triple-triples, (triple flip – triple toe loop) although they didn’t really happen in the short – or the long. He’s also been working hard on the triple Axel, which is not quite ready for programs. He’ll try to insert it later this season.
Based on his work at Minto and other events, Circelli was just assigned a Junior Grand Prix in Riga, Latvia in less than three weeks. “I’m excited,” he said.