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Girdwood's Messing goes Canadian for figure skating

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: July 7, 2016
  • Published March 5, 2015

Girdwood figure skater Keegan Messing returned to his roots last weekend -- he performed two solo numbers in the 45th annual Rondy on Ice, a show the 23-year-old has performed in since he was a little guy just learning to skate.

It's been a back-to-your-roots kind of season for Alaska's most accomplished male figure skater.

Messing, 23, took advantage of his dual United States-Canadian citizenship and switched countries this season.

After participating for years in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships -- where he had four straight top-10 senior men's finishes from 2009-12 -- Messing competed in Canada's national championships in January and grabbed fifth place.

The finish, buoyed by the landing of a quad jump in his long program, earned Messing a spot on the Canadian national team.

"I'm loving it," Messing said last weekend while preparing for Rondy on Ice. "It's like a great weight lifted off my chest. I'm doing something I've always wanted to do."

Messing said his Canadian roots run deep. His mom, Sally, was born in Edmonton, Alberta. His great-great grandfather, he said, was Manzo Nagano, Canada's first Japanese immigrant.

"When I was little my grandma told me Canada had never had an Olympic champion in men's figure skating," Messing said, "and since then I've wanted to be the first Canadian Olympic champion."

Canada still hasn't produced a men's gold medalist in the sport, although it boasts five silver medalists, including Patrick Chen in 2014. The United States boasts seven gold medalists and 14 total medalists to Canada's six.

Because the U.S. team is deeper and often more competitive than Canada's, skating for Canada could help Messing advance his career. Since ascending to senior-level skating several years ago, Messing has skated for the United States at only a handful of international competitions, including the 2011 Cup of Nice, where he claimed gold.

He said there was no rift between him and the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

"To my knowledge, I left on good terms with them," he said. "This is just something I really want to do. I spent some of my best years of my life skating for (the United States)."

In 2010 and 2011, Messing placed fourth for the United States at the World Junior Championships. From 2009-12, he finished, in order, ninth, eighth, eighth and seventh at the national championships.

In order to change countries, rules require a skater to sit out two seasons of international competition.

In 2013 and 2014, Messing was able to compete in domestic competitions but couldn't compete internationally. During that time he slipped to 16th place in 2013 and 12th in 2014 at the U.S. nationals.

At the 2015 Canadian nationals in Ontario earlier this year, Messing placed fifth in a field that didn't include Chen but featured the rest of the country's top men. When the new season begins next fall, he'll be a member of Team Canada and will receive some funding from the team.

Messing said he felt instantly welcomed at the Canadian nationals, where he said the atmosphere is more relaxed than at the U.S. championships. He turned 23 the day before the short program, "and the crowd sang 'Happy Birthday,' he said. "I've had my birthday at (U.S.) nationals the last six years, and this was the first time that happened."

Though he is now a member of the Sherwood Park Figure Skating Club in Edmonton, Messing continues to train in Anchorage with coach Ralph Burghart of the Alaska Association of Figure Skaters.

Messing said he is working on a quad flip to go along with the quad toe he already includes in his long program. Another goal is to add a triple lutz-quad toe combination to his arsenal. "No one does it," he said.

Messing is known for big jumps, spectacular Russian splits and lively performances typically skated to fun music. For his short program this season, he skated to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," a song popularized by Monty Python.

"I skate with a lot of energy and I perform every program I do -- I go out to please the crowd," Messing said.

He was a crowd-pleaser last weekend at Rondy on Ice, where an appreciative crowd applauded every jump and spin.

If anyone is unhappy that Messing is competing as a Canadian instead of an American, Messing said he has yet to hear from them. For him, the new allegiance makes perfect sense.

"We're the lost province," he said of Alaska.