The Hamilton Spectator

Like wine, they only improve with age

Top Canadian pair believe getting older is to their advantage at world championsh­ips in Montreal


In an exacting sport where much of the competitio­n hasn’t yet turned 25, Canadian figure skating pair Deanna StellatoDu­dek and Maxime Deschamps aren’t discourage­d by their combined age of 72.

They say it’s an advantage, because life experience — and not youth — is what’s propelling this pair to medal contention on the world stage.

“As an adult, I feel that I come to the table with so much more as an athlete,” Stellato-Dudek said.

Stellato-Dudek, a 40-year-old from Chicago, and the 32-year-old Deschamps of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., are two-time reigning Canadian champions who’ve won three Grand Prix gold medals in the past two seasons. They also placed first at the Four Continents Championsh­ips last month in Shanghai and rank second in the Internatio­nal Skating Union’s pairs standings.

The self-described “least likely” partners are top Canadian podium hopes at this week’s world championsh­ips in Montreal, which begins Wednesday with the pairs short program at the Bell Centre.

Stellato-Dudek says being older and smarter helps her make quicker correction­s. Her maturity increases her discipline in taking care of her body. And, despite the perceived notion that children have the best imaginatio­ns, she believes she’s more creative than ever with the ideas she brings to their lifts, spins and twists.

The life experience comes into play with how the two connect as partners on an emotional level — an essential element to skating in pairs.

“I’ve been in love, I’ve had heartbreak, I’ve experience­d life,” Stellato-Dudek

said. “It’s easier when you’ve had it and experience­d it in real life to bring it onto the ice.”

“When we have to express the emotion on the ice, we understand that emotion and we can really express it,” Deschamps added. “We bring those kinds of memories that make it be real on the ice.”

That didn’t stop people from raising their eyebrows when the pair teamed up in June 2019.

“When people heard that I was gonna skate with him for the first time, they’re thinking … ‘what?’ ” she said.

Stellato-Dudek was 36 at the time. A world junior championsh­ip singles silver medallist in 2000, she retired at 17 due to a chronic hip injury before returning to the sport 16 years later as a pairs skater and eventually moving to Montreal to join forces with Deschamps.

Meanwhile, Deschamps was 28 and unsure of his figure skating future after running through eight different partners.

The combinatio­n with StellatoDu­dek, however, appears here to stay through the stated goal of competing at the 2026 Olympics.

“She has a fire, a fire I’ve never seen in any skater,” Deschamps said. “She’s dedicated to another level.”

Veteran coach Josée Picard, much like the pair themselves, believes their age is at the heart of their success, instead of being a detriment.

“They don’t have the same mindset as teenagers,” Picard said. “That alone makes them special and that’s their strength — they treat it like a job and they’re ready to do anything to reach their goals.

“The fact they’re here at the age they are, doing something phenomenal, it’s because they really have the desire to succeed, they’re ready to do everything it takes.”

The daily routine involves arriving at the rink over an hour before practice to warm up, rehearsing movements off the ice and skating for three hours.

Some days, they’ll add in 1⁄ 1 hours 2 at the gym.

Once home, Stellato-Dudek does extensive stretching to ensure she recovers for the next day.

“Of all the skaters I’ve had, she’s in the top shape,” said Picard, who has coached for 50 years. “She’s mature enough to take care of her body so it makes a big difference.”

On the mental side, they do “Neurofeedb­ack,” a form of brain training. It’s a process that caught Stellato-Dudek’s attention when National Football League quarterbac­k Kirk Cousins revealed he did the training in the Netflix docuseries “Quarterbac­k.”

The training involves watching a television screen that’s gradually closing and conditioni­ng your brain to concentrat­e a certain way, according to Deschamps, who says it has helped him manage his ADHD.

‘Supposed to be there’

Montreal was slated to host the worlds in 2020, but that was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At that time, Stellato-Dudek was waiting to be released by U.S. Figure Skating to compete for Canada internatio­nally and the pair wouldn’t have featured in the event.

“Someone said to Maxime and I that, when it was cancelled, it’s because we were supposed to be there,” Stellato-Dudek said. “It’s pretty serendipit­ous.”

Last year, Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps placed fourth at the world championsh­ips. Despite saying their goal this year is to have fun and leave the ice happy with their performanc­e, they’re aiming a touch higher.

“We would be remiss to not say that we want to be on the top of the podium, in our home country, in our hometown, where we live,” Stellato-Dudek said.

The pairs competitio­n wraps up Thursday night with the free program. The world championsh­ips go through Saturday night with the men’s free program.

As an adult, I feel that I come to the table with so much more as an athlete.


 ?? RYAN REMIORZ THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps perform their pairs routine during practice at the World Figure Skating Championsh­ips in Montreal.
RYAN REMIORZ THE CANADIAN PRESS Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps perform their pairs routine during practice at the World Figure Skating Championsh­ips in Montreal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada