Canada’s newest figure skating star loves to ham it up for the crowd. He has skated atop an Alaskan iceberg. And he’s aiming to be the first man to land a quadruple Axel in competition.
Keegan Messing captured silver in men’s singles at Skate Canada International on Saturday, climbing the medal podium for the first time at a Grand Prix event. And moments after his entertaining program to a Charlie Chaplin medley — complete with the spinning of an invisible walking stick — the quirky 26-year-old talked about his new role in the spotlight.
“I don’t know how I feel about that yet, except for the fact that I’m happy, especially since it’s the first real competition of the year and I put out two good performances,” Messing said. “I’m really happy on how things are turning out, I’m excited to see how it keeps unfolding.
“These first couple of pages have been fun. Let’s see how the whole book is.”
Messing, who led after Friday’s short program, scored 265.17 points. Olympic silver medallist Shoma Uno of Japan rebounded from a disastrous short program to win gold with 277.25. Cha Jun-Hwan, a 17-year-old from South Korea who trains in Toronto with Brian Orser, took bronze with 254.77.
Messing’s medal was Canada’s second of the day. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro won pairs bronze.
Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva won the women’s singles.
The five-foot-four Messing was a respectable 12th in his Olympic debut in South Korea, just four spots behind three-time world champion Patrick Chan. Chan retired after the Games, and the shifted skating landscape has shone the spotlight squarely on Messing.
He is clearly comfortable there. With a minute to go in his four-minute free program, the Bell Place crowd was toe-tapping and clapping along.
“That program just has so much opportunity for character to come out and it is so much to do in front of a big crowd like this,” said Messing, clutching his lucky cowboy hat in one hand — the hat is a nod to both Alberta and Alaska. “It just has so much energy, it’s so much fun and it’s just wonderful.”
Messing is a far different skater from Chan, a ball of energy to Chan’s elegance and power.
Normally a dependable jumper, he landed just one of his planned three quads on Saturday. Over the summer, video emerged of Messing landing a quadruple Axel while in a harness, which resembles a huge fishing pole.
“I would love to have my name on it,” Messing said. “We were working on it throughout the spring but we backed off it a little bit just because the risk of injury is pretty high for such a big jump, and coming into the Grand Prix season we felt it was safer to wait for the season to end and then go ahead and try some more of them.”
The quad Axel, compared to the other quads, is actually four-and-a-half revolutions.
“In a harness, they feel like any other quad. I do feel like it is possible for a quad Axel to be landed,” Messing said.
Messing was a late arrival to the Canadian team. He’d originally hoped to make the 2014 Sochi squad, but when he competed for the U.S. at an international event in Italy, he had to sit out a couple of years before he was eligible to skate for Canada. Messing has dual citizenship because his mom Sally was born in Edmonton, while his grandfather was from Newfoundland.
Messing grew up in Girdwood, an Alaskan resort town of glaciers and grizzly bears just south of Anchorage where he now lives. So last month, Messing paddled out with an adventure guide and climbed atop a glacier to skate.
“We found one that was for the most part very safe, because they can be very unstable,” he said. “It was just fun to get on it with my Olympic pair of skates.”
Nam Nguyen of Toronto, meanwhile, laid down two excellent programs for the first time in awhile to finish fifth.
The 20-year-old landed both his quads, and when the music stopped, he shook two celebratory fists at the crowd.
“It’s been a really long time since I’ve had that experience, I’m really stoked to put out two solid performances this week,” he said.
Nguyen was fifth at the world championships in 2015, but the years since have been full of frustration. He switched coaches numerous times. He had to adjust to an enormous growth spurt.
Nguyen said he and his coach of nine months Robert Burke have been working on his mental game.
“I’m a very emotional skater, I react to how I feel, and so if I feel good, I’ll push, if I feel bad I won’t push,” he said. “My coach and I have decided that the plan we need to just push through the pain, doesn’t matter how I feel, and that’s where the real training gets done, especially on the days when I feel like absolute poop and I don’t want to be at the rink at all.
“The past few years my mentality has gone — oof! — down,” he added. “And it’s starting to come back up, this is not the end for sure, but this is a good start, and for my confidence it’s above and beyond.”
Tuktamysheva, who won Skate Canada as a 14-year-old in 2011, scored 203.32 points to win the women’s gold. She attempted a rare triple Axel and fell, but otherwise skated a clean program.
Japan’s Mako Yamashita claimed the silver, while Russia’s two-time world champ Evgenia Medvedeva was third. Canada’s Alaine Chartrand was eighth.
Skating to a Pink Floyd medley, Moore-Towers, from St. Catharines, Ont., and Marinaro, from Sarnia, Ont., scored 200.93 points, narrowly missing out on pairs silver. The difference was a downgrade on their death spiral, which was their final element.
“Missing the level on the death spiral in the final 10 seconds of the program was a really big bummer, half a point there cost us a silver medal, so it’s definitely a learning experience, margins here are so so tiny,” Marinaro said.
Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France scored a personal best 147.30 in their short program to win gold with 221.81. China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang won the silver (201.08).
Skate Canada is the second event of the Grand Prix circuit.