Canada’s Keegan Messing has his eye on the quad Axel

“…I built a downhill ice course in my backyard, complete with jump. And I wasn’t suppose to jump until after Worlds, but I couldn’t resist, and I jumped it, and put it on tape. If you wanna see it, look on my instagram – it’s fun!”

Facing the journalists in the mixed zone in Milan, Keegan Messing smiles – a generous, wide smile – while talking about his little adventures back home, in Alaska.

And this tiny detail right here, “I couldn’t resist”, says so much about who Keegan Messing is: full of energy, audacious, taking risks. Sitting relaxed, comfortable even, on the top of the Olympic rings, the highest of all places, in a photo with his teammates in PyeongChang.

He’s clearly not afraid of challenges, runs after them even – and here’s one for the next season: “My coach and I are going around the idea of starting the quad Axel. It’s a dream I’ve had for a very, very long time – as soon as I found out that no one did it, I wanted to be the first”.

by Florentina Tone

When he turned 26 this January, Keegan Messing knew already this was going to be a great season for him: having finished second at the Canadian Nationals, he had a ticket stamped for both Olympics and Worlds.

He didn’t know how great things would be though.

The dream skate. Literally

And when he’s chatting with the journalists in Milan, in the mixed zone, he’s beaming with enthusiasm: he has just skated the short program of his life, scoring a career best of 93 points. The sixth short program of the day – he’ll find out in three hours – allowing him to perform his free skate in the last, most valuable group of competitors.

He’d be exactly where he wanted to be in his debut at Worlds.

But for now, he’s taking it all in – the pure pleasure of skating a perfect short program – and, with a joy that’s truly catching, he recomposes the moment: “This was definitely the skate I was dreaming of last night”.

He laughs, and then explains: “My roommate said I was talking in my sleep: «Nail the Quad!!!», I found out this morning. And nailing the quad Toe in the beginning of the program, calming myself down, nailing the Axel and putting together a great program, I was going into the last spin with my heart just… exploding! It’s like I couldn’t contain myself! After the spin, it all came out!”

And Keegan Messing’s singing and dancing in the rain – with the exuberance, the speed, the marvelous edge work on the ice of Mediolanum Forum – has been one of the highlights of the entire event. And a breakthrough that many people in the figure skating world expected, looked forward to.

He had been under the radar for the past two seasons, competing mostly in Challenger Series events, and then he started this one with a bronze medal at Autumn Classic, in behind Javier Fernández and Yuzuru Hanyu. But the events that followed – Skate Canada and NHK Trophy – introduced him to the world, and though he didn’t medal, his tailor-fit programs, his way with the ice caught the viewers’ eyes.

He then finished 12th in his first ever Olympics – an Olympic debutant coming with high hopes in Milan, and a desire to open up and share his bubbly personality with everyone. Just listen to him talking about putting together the programs for the Olympic season, alongside choreographer Lance Vipond – impersonating Gene Kelly in the short, and Charlie Chaplin in the free.

“We chose two programs that had very strong characters, very strong fun characters, that I could portray and let the crowd smile. And laugh a little bit. Those were the mains reasons we chose this music for, and I feel like the next big hurdle is to find new music, to try to bring a different, but yet same kind of performance value”.

Any ideas yet?

“I wish I did”, he answers in a heartbeat, and then he adds with a large smile: “I did have one, but then I forgot, and I knew I would forget, so I sent it by text to Lance”

Curious, anyone? Well… there’s laughter again.

“I think he shut it down pretty fast. He said it wasn’t fun enough”.

Well, that was fun: Keegan, as Charlie Chaplin, at 2018 Worlds in Milan

The Quad Axel Challenge

Getting ready for Worlds was hard, he’ll admit: “Worlds is probably the hardest competition I had to prepare for so far, because it’s so close to the Olympics, and afterwards your body just wants to come down and crash, but you have to go right back into training and keep pushing for the World Championships! So that was a huge obstacle that we’re actually dealing with coming here, and I’m just super proud that I could go out, and put out a short program like I did”.

And though he is known as a skater having the quad Lutz in his repertoire, Keegan and his coach, Ralph Burghart, took the wise decision to go without it in Milan: “It’s just with the Olympics and Nationals we hadn’t really been training it – we have been training it on the side, and it’s getting more and more consistent, but we really want to put out a really solid performance in the long, so I opted to take it out”.

And then there’s that for the next season, and Keegan utters it with nonchalance: “Ralph and I are going around the idea of starting the quad Axel”.

And the impact of it: ears twitched among the journalists facing Keegan in the mixed zone – that’s a huge plan, and he knows. And he continues with a smile:

“It’s a dream I’ve had for a very, very long time. As soon as I found out that no one did the quad Axel, when I was about 8 years old, I wanted to be the first. And then I realized how hard it would be, and I actually felt like the dream would go away, it would never come true. But after I started landing the quad Lutz, and the triple Axel has become more consistent than it has ever been, and it’s the biggest it’s ever been, we were like joking around one day: Oh, yeah, it’s got room for a quad! And we looked at each other and just: What do you think? Maybe we can try it. So we’re thinking about start throwing it into harness, play around with it”.

And they have a history together, Keegan and the Axel, and he’s more than happy to share it: “I was 14 years old, at the Golden West Competition – it was in the warm-up for the free skate that I landed my very first triple Axel. And I threw it in the program, and I fell, but then I threw it again at Nationals that year, a day before I turned 15, and I landed it at Nationals. So at that time I was the youngest to land a triple Axel, and the first Novice in the U.S. to land a triple Axel. It’s always been a favorite jump for me”.

And you might be familiar with this particular detail in Keegan’s biography, but we’ll write it down anyway: born in Alaska – where he continues to live and train –, he represented USA before deciding to compete for Canada, in 2014; his mother was born in Edmonton, Alberta, so Keegan holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship.

Plus: Keegan’s great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side was Manzo Nagano, the first Japanese to officially immigrate to Canada, in 1877. Mount Manzo Nagano, near Owikeno Lake, in British Columbia, was named in his honour.

Keegan finished the first Worlds of his career on the 8th place, stating right after his free skate: “The fact that I can stay in the top 10 is very pleasing to me. It was fantastic to have a season this long, and I can’t wait for next season. I definitely gave myself room to improve here – so: Bring it on!

And you can count on him upping the ante – born and raised in Alaska, ice is in his nature. As it is taking risks, embracing the adventure. Have I told you he built a downhill ice course in his backyard?

Glimpses from Keegan’s free skate at 2018 Worlds

Keegan alongside coach Ralph Burghart in the Kiss and Cry after the free skate. Plus: his hat – and his hat has always been a beautiful companion – he’d say smiling in Milan: “It’ a good hat. It keeps the water off my head back home in Alaska, and I just take it everywhere cause it’s kind of comfy”.

Key word at the exhibition practice in the morning: relaxation

As for Keegan’s exhibition number in Milan, it surely included a large number of tricks – among them, an impressive Russian split and a back flip. To “Shake a Tail Feather” and “Jailhouse Rock”, the program was so, so him, literally an explosion of energy, enthusiasm. And you don’t even have to take our word for it – just look at the pictures.

Confetti rain at the end of 2018 Worlds…

…and some skaters are even more thrilled than others when it comes to confetti. Recognize the (smiling) two?