Keegan Messing made the mistake of scrolling through social media soon after he was sent into quarantine with a positive COVID-19 test.
He saw photos of his smiling teammates aboard the Canadian charter flight bound for the Beijing Olympics that he was supposed to be on.
Messing steered clear of social media after that. He didn’t even watch Canada finish fourth in the team event that he’d been forced to miss. It was simply too tough.
Barely 24 hours after he touched down in Beijing – finally – the 30-year-old from Girdwood, Alaska was ninth in the short program at the Olympics on Tuesday, and talked about the toll the anxious days in isolation took on his mental health.
“I’m an optimistic guy, but this definitely took the cake for putting my optimism to a test,” Messing said. “It was a struggle, the mental health side of things for this journey was huge.
“To pop a positive (COVID-19 test) at the finish line is devastating, and then to be thrown into quarantine at the peak of training … to be sitting there in a room all by yourself, being bored out of your mind, open up your phone, and then see all your friends on the plane that you’re supposed to be on, it was a journey just to keep the happy-go-lucky attitude.”
Skating to “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS and Joe Cocker, Messing opened with a big quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and was clean the rest of the way, scoring 93.24 points.
American Nathan Chen led the way, scoring 113.97 to break the world short-program record held by Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan’s two-time Olympic champion. Hanyu popped his opening quad jump to gasps from the few hundred fans at Capital Indoor Stadium, and finished eight.
Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama (108.12) and Shoma Uno (105.90) were second and third respectively.
Messing, who captured his first Canadian title last month in Ottawa, tested positive in Vancouver before the Canadian team’s charter to Beijing.
Needing four negative tests before getting the green light to travel, he was forced to spend about a week in Vancouver, running up and down his hotel stairwell to keep fit before he was cleared to practise during private ice time in the city. He was on the phone “all the time” with his wife Lane Hodson. He caught up on all the video games he hadn’t had time to play since their son Wyatt was born last July.
When Messing stepped on the ice Tuesday, Canadian skater Michael Marinaro hollered: “Do it for Wyatt!”
“I’m pretty much skating for him. He’s my little buddy. He’s everything to me,” Messing said of his son, whose picture he showed to the TV cameras while he awaited his marks. “We weren’t sure what he was going to do to our lives, but you don’t realize you weren’t whole until the perfect little puzzle piece enters into your life. And gosh, he’s everything.”
Messing said he was thinking of his younger brother Paxon, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2019.
“He had the Olympic dream himself, and so, this second Olympics, it’s kind of for him,” said Messing, who was 12th four years ago in Pyeongchang.
Messing finally landed in Beijing – via Montreal and Milan – on Monday.
“I had enough time to go through my bag of clothes and take a shower, and as soon as I was out of the shower, I got a call saying, ‘Hey, you’re cleared (his arrival COVID-19 test). Can you make a bus in 10 minutes for your practice?’ I was like, ‘Yes, I can,’” he said.
“I hopped on the bus, did my practice. Came back and opened up social media for like the first time and I saw myself fully bearded. I didn’t even have time to shave.”
He was running on adrenaline on Tuesday, he said, although he’d had a decent sleep thanks partly to careful planning for jet lag.
Asked how long his journey was, Messing shrugged.
“I don’t even know what day it is,” he said.
“We went the wrong way around, to be sitting in Vancouver on the Pacific Ocean, and then to go the other direction over the Atlantic Ocean definitely made things a little more adventurous,” he added. “We’re going to be going around the world in what’s going to feel like 80 days on this trip, because we’re going over the Pacific going home. It’s a journey.”
Roman Sadovksy, Canada’s other men’s singles entry, has had his own Olympic struggles. After a couple of error-filled programs in the team event, he popped two jumps on Tuesday, and finished 29th out of 29 skaters, and so didn’t advance to Thursday’s free program.
The 22-year-old from Toronto was at a loss to understand why.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Tough,” Sadovsky said. “I felt really excited coming here. I wasn’t very nervous. I didn’t feel more nervous here than in other competitions. Just something didn’t click.”
Messing, who has dual citizenship because his mom was born in Edmonton, initially competed for the U.S., but switched affiliation in the 2014-15 season. He became the first Alaskan Olympian when he qualified for Canada’s team in 2018.
While he grew up in Alaska, he has deep roots in Canada. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia and other historical sources, his great, great grandfather on his mom’s side, Manzo Nagano, is the first known Japanese immigrant to Canada. It’s believed he arrived in Victoria in 1877 aboard a British steamer.
There’s a mountain peak, Mount Manzo Nagano, named in his honour to commemorate the arrival of Japanese immigrants, in a remote coastal area of B.C.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with figure skating. American Vincent Zhou was forced to withdraw from men’s singles after testing positive a day earlier.
Last month, Stephen Gogolev was unable to compete at Canada’s Olympic trials after testing positive upon arrival in Ottawa. And Nam Nguyen struggled to sixth place after contracting the virus a week earlier.
COVID-19 restrictions meant only a few hundred fans – evenly spaced for social distancing – were permitted to attend Tuesday’s skating at Capital Indoor Stadium. While skating fans are known for showering their favourite skaters with stuffed animals and flowers, the PA announcer reminded fans it’s not permitted in Beijing.
There could be plenty of movement on the leadership on Thursday with just 10 points separating fifth and 14th place.
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