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At age 40, Deanna Stellato-Dudek captivates home crowd at figure skating worlds

MONTREAL – Pairs’ skater Deanna Stellato-Dudek is the grande dame of competitive figure skating, trying to become, at age 40, the oldest female skater to win a world title in any discipline.

“You know,” she said, “there’s no points in figure skating for being older.”

She and her 32-year-old partner, Maxime Deschamps, got plenty of them Wednesday with the best short program performance of their three international competition seasons together.

Their 77.48 points gave the Canadians a 3.95-point lead going into Thursday night’s free skate over defending champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan, who only last month came back after his back injury threatened to end their season.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

The third-place team, Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii of Italy, had 72.88, meaning the top three had posted the three highest short program scores of this season.

Much has been made and written of Stellato-Dudek’s comeback after 16 years away from a sport she began as a singles skater in suburban Chicago. The International Skating Union (ISU) recently celebrated her with a special achievement award.

She left the sport at 17, a season after winning silver at the world junior championships, because of persistent injuries and burnout that had led her to hate figure skating and distance herself from it completely. She came back as a married woman in a different discipline.

“I think it’s common to want to get as far away as you can if you feel you haven’t finished everything you wanted in the sport,” she said.

“When I came back, my only goal was to not leave prematurely this time. (I wanted) to feel, whether I succeeded or not, that I gave it everything I had so when I am 80 years old, enjoying a glass of wine over dinner, I can say, `You know, I went back and did it.’”

If she isn’t still skating at 80, that is.

She started pairs with a U.S. skater, Nathan Bartholomay, with whom she would win bronze medals at the 2018 and 2019 U.S. Championships before the partnership ended when knee issues made Bartholomay’s competitive future uncertain. An extensive search for a new partner led her to Deschamps, who is from suburban Montreal.

To pursue the sport into her 40s, Stellato-Dudek had to adopt a semi-Spartan lifestyle that includes a highly regimented diet and two or three hours of off-ice work every night to get her body ready for the next day’s practice.

“I am amazed by what she is doing,” Deschamps said.

It has taken them to a Grand Prix Final bronze medal, two straight Canadian titles and a (somewhat disappointing) fourth at the 2023 worlds. Their ultimate goal is the 2026 Olympics, and Stellato-Dudek said she should receive Canadian citizenship in plenty of time to be able to compete. (Olympic citizenship rules are tighter than ISU rules.)

“I don’t really think about having to do so much more than everyone else,” she said. “I just have to do what I need to feel as ready as all of my competitors.”

It goes unsaid that most are significantly younger. For instance, Miura is 22, Conti 23.

She is a lady of a certain age in the sport. Yet her team’s scores Wednesday suggest it is a fine wine kind of thing.

They topped their previous short program personal best by 4.45 points. With six of the nine judges giving them an aggregate 13 program component scores (PCS) of nine or better, they topped their personal bests for both PCS and technical execution.

And, to boot, they did it without losing composure In front of a roaring home crowd that clearly has adopted Stellato-Dudek as one of their own.

“I said earlier I think it was important to acknowledge there was a lot of pressure,” she said. “It’s where Max is from, and we both have a lot of friends and family here.

“My friends don’t watch figure skating. They only watch me. I really wanted to do well so they think I was cool.”

She was as cool as only an old hand at this game could be.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to