'40 is the new 20': Stellato-Dudek, Deschamps capture gold at figure skating worlds

MONTREAL — Deanna Stellato-Dudek etched her name into the history books on Thursday night, proving her age is just a number.

Stellato-Dudek captured gold alongside Canadian pairs partner Maxime Deschamps at the world figure skating championships. The 40-year-old became the oldest woman to win a world title in the sport's history.

"Can I get a quote beside the record book? It'd be like '40 is the new 20,'" Stellato-Dudek said. “It's something I carry with pride. I'm very proud of it. I hope a lot of athletes stay around a lot longer.

"I hope it encourages people to not stop before they've reached their potential."

Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps are the first Canadian pair to win gold since Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won back-to-back world titles in 2015 and 2016.

They’re also as unlikely a pairing as they come.

Sellato-Dudek was pegged as a rising American figure skating star over two decades ago after winning a singles silver medal at the 2000 world junior championship, but retired at 17 due to a chronic hip injury.

The Chicago native revived her career 16 years later as a pairs skater and in 2019 moved to Montreal to team up with Deschamps with the stated goal of competing at the 2026 Olympics — even if it meant switching nationalities.

"My younger self would think I'm crazy,” said Stellato-Dudek, who’s confident she’ll get Canadian citizenship before the Milano-Cortina Games. “She wanted to win the 2006 Olympics, so she would be wondering why I'm going for the 2026 Olympics."

The 32-year-old Deschamps of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., ran through eight different figure skating partners before finding the one that would propel him to a world title.

"She's a warrior. For her, it's Olympics every day,” Deschamps said. "We have two very different stories, but at the end of the day it shows our determination and perseverance.

“All the work that we've done in our respective careers has brought us to where we are today."

The two-time national champions arrived at the Bell Centre with a 3.95-point cushion from placing first in the short program on Wednesday.

And despite the fact Stellato-Dudek said she felt sick on Thursday, they followed it up with a personal-best 144.08 in the free program while skating to “Interview With a Vampire”

Their total of 221.56 was just enough to dethrone defending champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan, who posted the best score of the free program but finished with silver (217.88).

"We had a lot of pressure, a lot of nerves, for us it was the most pressure we've ever faced,” Deschamps said. “To see what she's accomplished at the age she's at is incredible.”

Miura and Kihara did not take part in the medal ceremony. Coach Bruno Marcotte said Kihara started coughing, hyperventilating and experiencing low blood sugar after the competition.

"He was so dizzy and he tried to stand up a couple of times, but every time he tried to stand up, he couldn’t keep his balance,” Marcotte said.

Marcotte added that Kihara was starting to feel better after receiving fluids from doctors.

Germany’s Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nikita Volodin took bronze (210.40). Hase called Stellato-Dudek an inspiration.

"Deanna, with your age, it's amazing. We were all bowing in front of you,” she said. “You have my highest respect."

Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps received a standing ovation from the Bell Centre crowd before they even finished the program. Fans held up Canadian flags and “Go Deanna & Max” signs to support the hometown duo.

“This, for me, is really a dream come true,” Stellato-Dudek said.

Lia Pereira of Milton, Ont., and Trennt Michaud of Brantford, Ont., finished eighth (186.93).

Local pair Kelly Ann Laurin of Saint-Jerome, Que., and Loucas Ethier of St-Alphonse, Que., were 15th (169.48) in their world championship debut.

The world championships go through the men’s free program on Saturday night.

STARTING OUT STRONG

Two-time defending champion Shoma Uno of Japan is on the right track to a three-peat after placing first in the men’s short program earlier Thursday.

Uno led the pack with a 107.72 score. Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama — the 2022 Olympic silver medallist — was second (106.35) ahead of American Ilia Malinin (105.97).

"I could have performed a lot better, and a few minor things here and there I could have really done them a lot better," Malinin, this year’s top-ranked men’s skater, said. "But overall I'm just happy with my score."

Malinin, a bronze medallist at last year's world championship, said the last few weeks have been a "really tough challenge" because he hasn't felt well. Asked if it was an injury or illness, the 19-year-old said "both," but wouldn't specify further.

Roman Sadovsky of Vaughan, Ont., wowed the home crowd and posted 84.28 points, shattering his previous season-best of 72.44 to finish 11th. Canadian champion Wesley Chiu of Vancouver was 18th (78.00).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press