Just one year ago, the thought could not have been further from her mind.
But after a dominant performance in winning her first national title at the 2022 Canadian Championships in Ottawa, it can most assuredly be said that Madeline Schizas has earned the opportunity to become a first-time Olympian.
The diminutive skater from Oakville, Ontario, was easily the class of the field over the weekend, posting an overall score of 198.24 that was nearly 28 points better than runner-up Véronik Mallet (170.65). Former national champion Gabrielle Daleman finished third with 167.50.
While all the contenders struggled around Schizas, the judges could not help but notice the quality of skating she produced at an event that, in the middle of another severe wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, was held in an empty building.
Less than a full calendar year after placing 13th in her World Championships debut in Sweden, Schizas has booked herself a ticket to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. It was after competing at those 2021 Worlds in Stockholm that Schizas knew she could strive for even bigger things.
She made her Grand Prix Series debut in the fall, finishing eighth at Skate Canada and sixth at Rostelecom Cup in Russia.
“The Olympics were not even on my radar until after the World Championships last year. When I qualified for the free skate and I qualified Canada a spot at the Games, that’s when I said to myself ‘you know, I could do this. I could qualify,’” she admitted.
“This past year has just made me more confident in my abilities. Just knowing that I am competitive domestically and I am beginning to become more competitive internationally … I didn’t have that kind of confidence in myself before last year and I think that has been the biggest change for me.”
The Olympic Winter Games are definitely on her radar now, in the wake of her runaway victory at nationals. It has been quite the meteoric rise for a skater who brought home the bronze medal in her senior debut at the Canadian Championships in 2020. That small success in Mississauga, just a short drive from her Oakville home, fueled her desire for more.
“Winning that medal was just the start of having more confidence in myself. My coaches knew I could do it from before then, but I only started really thinking that I was going to be able to accomplish all of this from that point,” she explained.
“One (Canadian women’s skater) is going to the Olympics this year and the chances it was going to be me were very slim a couple of years ago. Now that I have won a Canadian title, for sure the Olympics are on my radar … In a way, I don’t think people expected it to be me. I’m from a smaller club (in Milton, Ontario), a smaller community. I don’t have coaches (Nancy Lemire and Derek Schmidt) who have necessarily done this before. We have a great relationship and now I have my first national title.”
All of this seemed so far off back in 2018, at the end of the last Olympic cycle, when Schizas was among the younger group of skaters at the Canadian Championships.
“The last Olympics, I was in novice women and I wasn’t a particularly good novice lady. Now, four years later, I am headed to my first Olympic Games. It is truly surreal,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard this year. I knew it was going to be a full season decision, I knew it wasn’t going to come down to one event. I just came into this year with a real motivation to be prepared and be ready and do everything I could to make it on to the team. It all worked out in the end.”
And she will get to live the dream that she saw first-hand for herself when, at age 6, her parents took her to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
“I saw Joannie Rochette skate her short program and of course, that’s an inspiring moment and it’s one I will never forget. I’ll never forget being there and I’ll never forget the electricity of the Olympics and just being in that environment,” she said. “Of course I dreamed of it, but I never saw that as being the be all and end all of my career. I saw the moments along the way as what I was really doing this for.
“My coaches did such a good job of keeping me focused on the journey as opposed to just the outcome. They always say that they are building people, not just athletes. That’s the biggest difference between me and a lot of people, I always focused on the journey and what I was getting out of it day to day.”
And now the journey will take Schizas all the way to Beijing and her first Olympics, where she will celebrate her 19th birthday on Feb. 14, the day before the women’s short program is contested.
“I’m so thrilled and so ready to represent Canada at the Games,” she said.