If this was indeed Keegan Messing’s last trip to the Canadian Championships, he authored quite the final chapter to this story.
And it goes far beyond the first senior men’s title he clinched Saturday night in Ottawa, laying down a free skate strong enough to hold off the challenge of 2020 national champion Roman Sadovsky.
Messing’s odyssey in getting to Ottawa was quite the tale in itself, lasting some 33 hours (his wife, Lane, and young son Wyatt were also part of the adventure). But it was not until 9:30 p.m. on the eve of the men’s short program that he even knew what pair of skates he would be wearing.
That is because his regular skates, which were in checked baggage on the series of flights that took him from his Alaska home to Canada’s capital, did not make it to Ottawa with him. On a frantic Thursday, his skate manufacturer (Jackson) managed to get Messing a pair of white skates that he was preparing to wear in competition Friday – until his regular skates finally showed up later that night.
No wonder Messing opened his post-event media session with “a huge thank you to everybody who got me on the ice. It really was a team effort.”
After all the drama was put aside, Messing went out and performed well enough to win the men’s short program by about three points. One night later, he followed up Sadovsky’s strong free skate with a gutsy effort of his own to seize the gold. Messing finished with an overall score of 258.03, while Sadovsky earned 247.60. The bronze went to first-year senior Wesley Chiu (232.04) by a razor-thin margin over Joseph Phan (231.50).
At the end of the night, Messing reflected on his triumph, which put him on the Canadian Olympic team for a second consecutive time. He is one of only six skaters (along with Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier, Eric Radford, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro) who were part of the star-studded roster in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea, where Canada fielded perhaps its strongest team ever at a Winter Games.
There was plenty of high drama at 2018 nationals in Vancouver with Olympic team berths on the line, and Messing felt it again on the weekend in Ottawa.
“I forgot what it was like to go out on Olympic qualifying ice. Oh man, it’s another ballgame out there. To go out and skate and put down a good performance, it was amazing,” said Messing, who admitted to having “an internal panic attack” before performing his long program.
“But with 19 years of nationals, your body knows what to do. I just went out there and did my job. The amount of butterflies in my stomach before, it just turned into positive vibes. This is incredible.”
Messing’s mother, Sally, had been in the building for all of his previous national championship appearances in both Canada and the United States (Messing is a dual citizen who began competing for Canada in 2014). With this year’s Championships held in an empty arena due to COVID-19 restrictions, he had to find another way to make his mother and father, Bob, part of his celebration. Modern technology did the trick, with Messing giving Elladj Baldé his phone to bring his parents in the arena in virtual fashion to watch the medal ceremony via FaceTime.
“That was probably the most I cried over this whole thing, to have my mom and dad there with me,” he said. “With the lack of crowd, the lack of people here, it was definitely not the same Canadians we always remember. To have my parents right there with me … it was a flood of emotions, it was beautiful.”
The excitement carried over to his hotel room, where his wife and son were waiting to celebrate the moment with him. “It’s my first national title … I almost can’t put it into words (how I feel). It’s a surreal feeling. I’m just over the moon and I’ve got my family here to celebrate, so I’m just overjoyed. I was up past 2:30 a.m. because I was so excited. And the excitement is still rolling over today,” he said the following day after officially being named to Canada’s team for Beijing.
Messing marks his 30th birthday on Jan. 23 and admits it is “a very real possibility” that he has made his last appearance at the Canadian Championships. But he is not ready to shut the door completely on that idea. “I do have it in the back of my head that I want to make 20 nationals and I do want to make World Team Trophy next year. But I’m starting to get a little bit older and depending on what happens the rest of the season, everything is up in the air,” he said.
“I might have one more in me, but we’ll leave that for another day to decide.”