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Madeline Schizas of Canada in action at the Capital Indoor Stadium, in Beijing, China, on Feb. 6, 2022.EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/Reuters

As Canada’s figure skaters travel around at the Beijing Winter Olympics, they remind themselves of something: Don’t lose Maddie.

Madeline Schizas, who turned 19 on Valentine’s Day, is the youngest Canadian figure skater at the Games and the country’s only representative in the women’s singles category. The native of Oakville, Ont., who is 4-foot-11, didn’t have the Olympics on her radar until just recently, yet she’s been the team’s most consistent performer in Beijing. She’s shown the poise of a veteran yet her teammates still look out for the rookie like a little sibling.

“They say they’re scared of my coach if they lose me,” Schizas said. “Like we get on the bus and they’re like, ‘Is she here, we can’t lose her.’ There’s a lot of that. I’m very much the little sis of the team.”

Schizas is one of 16 teenagers representing Canada in Beijing. She is the only figure skater; the others are competing in luge, freestyle skiing, ski jumping, snowboard or on the men’s hockey team.

Schizas’s maturity is unmistakable – she is also an accomplished singer and pianist and has started urban planning studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

Schizas skated in the team figure skating event in the first week of the Games and began her individual event on Tuesday, performing well enough in the short program to qualify for the free skate on Thursday. The composed teen unleashed jump after jump in two superb skates in the team event, boosting Canada into the final and then to a fourth-place finish. As Schizas skated her Canadian teammates cheered wildly.

“I think I’m very good at handling my nerves,” Schizas said. “I think it’s one of my biggest strengths as a competitor – that I am able to keep a cool head under pressure.”

Even at an Olympics in China during a pandemic, under tight restrictions, with their family members on the other side of the world, Canada’s teenaged athletes have been calm and cool.

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Canada's Brooke Dhondt competes in the women's snowboard halfpipe final at the Beijing Winter Olympics.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Brooke D’Hondt is Canada’s youngest athlete at the Games. The 16-year-old snowboarder had eyed the 2026 Olympics as her time to shine, so when she qualified for 2022 in the high-flying halfpipe event she thought “this one was kind of like an experience, just to kind of take it all in.”

She had already appeared in many of the biggest events in her sport – X Games, Winter Dew Tour and an FIS World Cup event.

D’Hondt placed 10th in the halfpipe, where she competed with and talked to Chloe Kim – the American superstar snowboarder who won the event as a 17-year-old at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, then repeated in Beijing. That inspired D’Hondt.

“I was pretty over the moon and overwhelmed, super excited that I was able to put down my two runs and get into final with the best girls in the world,” D’Hondt said.

The Grade 11 student from Calgary is coached by her father, Trevor D’Hondt, so he travelled with her to China. She’s been doing school online since Grade 8 and going internationally to competitions for years.

At these Olympics, D’Hondt took stock of what the medal-winning women and men did in their runs. She plans to try the tougher tricks in her training in Calgary, using halfpipe airbag technology. That way she can try new skills with a soft landing rather than landing on the hard, icy walls.

D’Hondt said seeing Kim on TV at the 2018 Olympics inspired her. Other Canadian teens say it was experiencing the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as young children that sparked their dream.

Schizas was there in 2010, watching Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette, who famously skated to an emotional bronze medal just days after the death of her mother.

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Natalie Corless of Team Canada slides during the women's singles luge event of the Beijing Winter Olympics.Adam Pretty/Getty Images AsiaPac

For 18-year-old luger Natalie Corless, it was an interaction out on the street in Vancouver during the 2010 Games that stoked her Olympic interest.

“I went to figure skating training, I got to watch the torch run past my house and the best was one of the skaters actually gave me her podium flowers on the street,” recalled Corless, who lived in Vancouver at the time.

She’s been in the high-speed sport of luge since trying it when she was 11. She adored it at a recruitment camp, sliding down an icy track on a sled at lightning fast pace feet-first. She was hooked.

Corless graduated from high school in Whistler, B.C., this past spring and decided to take a gap year and concentrate on luge to see if she could qualify for the Olympics.

Already a successful junior competitor internationally, she moved to Calgary with some fellow lugers and shared an apartment. The independent teen rode her bike or the bus everywhere, joking that she has far more experience driving a luge than a car. Corless went all-in and qualified for Beijing.

Corless had a small setback when she arrived in Beijing. Having recently recovered from COVID-19 before departing for the Games, one of her early tests at the Olympics came up positive. Although she subsequently tested negative, she had to follow special protocols – going only to training and competition at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre, and staying and eating alone in her room in the Olympic village.

Corless placed 16th in her event. Immediately after her last run, her family and friends spoke with her through a big video screen from home in Whistler, a perk offered to all Olympians at the venues. Live at the Games, this felt different from any other video call home.

“My parents have come to every race they ever possibly could have. It was tough to not hear them cheering at the finish line,” Corless said. “I definitely was on the brink of tears when I saw them, you know, I haven’t been home over four months now. I still talk to my parents all the time, but this was definitely a different experience.”

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Ski jumper Alexandria Loutitt of Canada in action at National Ski Jumping Centre, Zhangjiakou, China.LINDSEY WASSON/Reuters

Ski jumper Alexandria Loutitt can relate to those long months away from home. The 18-year-old Calgary native has been living away from home for years now – first in Germany with some family friends, then with teammates in Slovenia. Canada has closed all of its domestic jumps because of the expense so its national team athletes must train elsewhere.

Loutitt wanted to try all the high-flying snow sports she had seen as a little girl on TV at the Vancouver Olympics. A family trip to Germany re-enforced the idea when she saw ski jumping there. Her brother had tried it and after some initial resistance their parents let her try, too. The girl who loved to jump off bunk beds and out of trees was instantly smitten with this new way to fly. Back then Canada had some jumps open so she got involved in a club in Calgary. Once the Canadian jumps closed she left the country to pursue her sport.

“I’ve spent more time outside Canada than inside it since I was 13,” she said. “I didn’t want the same thing that all my friends wanted. And so I have sacrificed a lot of friendships. You know, I didn’t want to be out drinking or partying. I wanted to train. I wanted to be in the mountains.”

She has done nearly all of her high-school studies online at the National Sport School in Calgary. Now in Grade 12, she plans to graduate this June. She took just a brief break for the Olympics.

“I sent my teachers e-mails, ‘I’m not doing your school work for like the next 15 days,’” Loutitt said.

She was one of the four Canadians who captured a stunning bronze medal in the mixed team event in Beijing – the first for Canada in ski jump at an Olympics.

Loutitt, the Olympic rookie, was the youngest of the quartet, and 30-year-old, four-time Olympian Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes – one of the athletes she watched jump in the Vancouver Games – was the oldest. The team hug at the end of his run is her standout memory of the Games. It’s a bright spot for a sport with low participation numbers in Canada.

The International Olympic Committee says there are 229 athletes at the Beijing Games – out of more than 2,900 – who were born after Feb. 4, 2002.

“I think that it’s probably the same for a lot of the teenagers here at the Games – they don’t want the same thing as other kids do,” Loutitt said. “They are focused on what is in front of them, the medals and the podium.”

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