Stellato-Dudek

When the Canadian pairs team of Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps closed out the 2021-2022 season with a fourth-place finish at Four Continents, they could never have imagined what would be waiting for them seven months down the road.

Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps, who ranked fourth in the pairs hierarchy in Canada at the end of last season, suddenly found themselves the top team in the country when Vanessa James and Eric Radford, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro retired, followed by the unexpected announcement by Evelyn Walsh that she was quitting the sport.

“We did not know anyone was retiring other than Kirsten and Michael because they were pretty forthcoming about that in interviews, but we did not know about Eric and Vanessa and I don’t think anyone could have predicted Evelyn and Trennt (Michaud), so we were working to be better than them,” Stellato-Dudek explained.

From the outset of the current campaign, Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps showed a vast improvement in the execution of their programs. Their victory at Nebelhorn Trophy in late September was the start of a momentum that has continued throughout the latter half of 2022.

“We really took that time (the offseason) seriously and that is why there has been such a great improvement from last year to this time,” said Stellato-Dudek.

That success was followed by a second-place finish at Skate America, where they not only claimed their first Grand Prix medals but the result also gave the 39-year-old Stellato-Dudek a place in skating history as the oldest competitor to ever win a medal on the Grand Prix Series.

“Our goal is to go to every event and score higher than we did at our previous one and also improve on some of our levels,” Stellato-Dudek said at the post-event press conference, adding that the team “did score a little higher here than we did at Nebelhorn.”

Two weeks later they upped their game at the competition in France, winning both segments to claim their first Grand Prix title. “We had a rough and difficult short program skate, but you can’t be perfect every time,” said Stellato-Dudek. “After Skate America we did re-evaluate everything. What could we do better next time — how do we skate closer, get out jumps closer — so it was stepping up one stair at a time, slowly but surely. We did achieve some of those things in France on the non-up-in-the-air elements, so we made those improvements.”

“At Skate America it was a good performance, and we were really pleased with the score we got,” Deschamps added. “This was not the easiest competition. It was challenging but we are very proud of our fight in the long program.”

That win, combined with their second-place finish at Skate America guaranteed the team a place at the Grand Prix Final in December.

This is a second career for Stellato-Dudek who, as a singles skater, was the 1999 Junior Grand Prix Final champion and the 2000 World Junior silver medalist. Injuries forced her to retire in 2001 and she moved on to a life outside of skating.

In 2016, a team-building exercise at the company she worked for changed her life. Stellato-Dudek realized she was not quite done with figure skating. She retrieved her 16-year-old boots from her mother’s basement and took her first steps on the ice. “I was having a panic attack about pulling off my first single Axel, and if you had told me that in 2022 I was going to win a Grand Prix medal I would not have believed you,” she said.

“Since I came back to skating it has been a pretty big whirlwind for sure. I told everyone I took a huge leap coming back to the sport and coming back in this way, trying to be competitive with people half my age. But I always had a really strong belief in myself, and I think that you can do whatever you think that you can do.

“I knew that I was going to have to train harder than some of the girls that were younger than me, as they had already done about 5,000 throws in their life and I had done zero. I knew I was going to have to make up for lost time and what that would take.”

Stellato-Dudek′s second skating career began in the United States when she teamed up with Nathan Bartholomay. Over three seasons, the team finished third at the 2018 and 2019 U.S. Championships, and collected medals at three Challenger Series events in the 2018-2019 season. They announced the end of their partnership in April 2019.

A few months later, Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps, the 2014 Canadian junior pairs champion with Vanessa Grenier, revealed they had formed a partnership in June.

 

Stellato-Dudek moved to Montréal shortly thereafter, but as she had not been released by U.S. Figure Skating there were no international competitions on their agenda for the 2019-2020 season. The COVID pandemic forced them off the ice for months in 2020. As she was still considered an international competitor, that situation was repeated from January to March in 2021.

After being released by the United States in the spring of 2021 the duo was assigned to two Challenger Series events the following season, finishing fourth in their international debut at the Autumn Classic International and sixth at Warsaw Cup. They followed that up with a bronze medal at the 2022 national championships and a fourth-place finish at Four Continents.

Looking for ways to set themselves apart from the other teams, Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps devised original entries into the death spiral and a pairs spin.

“For the death spiral, we did the forward outside last year and we got a lot of comments on the position — they (the judges) did not like it. So we tried to change it where I am not moving my leg anymore — I am extending it. Then we thought about how we could be even further out of the box and make it look more attractive. Maxime had the idea of doing a forward pivot from the beginning

“It was our intention to do it from the beginning of the season but then in Germany we were told at the last minute they were not sure if it was legal or not so we had to wait to make sure it got passed. We are really happy to be the first ones doing this.

“There are other ways to make your mark in pairs skating and this is one of the things we feel we have done to bring something new to the table, that maybe other teams will watch someday and try.”

Deschamps said they looked at what a lot of ice dance teams were doing and tried some of the moves, which is how they came up with the unique entry into the pairs spin.

The Canadian team knows it will face formidable foes in the form of the reigning World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier at the Grand Prix Final. “As I am sure Alexa and Brandon will tell you, I have a lot of respect for them,” said Stellato-Dudek. “They were the favorites going into Worlds last year, but it is one thing to be a favorite and another to actually win. It is not the same thing. It takes a lot of strength to have that pressure on you and deliver.

“This is our second season competing internationally and every experience we have had has been unique. The first time being in the lead after the short; the first time skating last; the first time not having a good short program. It has been a lot of new things each time and this is the experience we need to gain. So we are taking it step by step and trying to keep it together so that we don’t let it all get to us.”

When the German pairs team of Annike Hocke and Robert Kunkel was asked if it was inspiring to be competing against someone who is almost twice their age, both said there was no question.

“I think that anything is possible if you just try. There are no limits,” said Kunkel. “Even if 99 percent of people say it is not possible, if you believe in it, you can do it.”

Hocke added: “I already told Deanna in the dressing room that I had watched her winning a competition in 1999 or something like that. I told her how crazy it was to watch those programs with 6.0 scoring and very bad quality.

“And her calling her choreographer on a phone that I had never seen in my life before. I am in awe. It is great to see that she can skate for so long. It is a great inspiration.”

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