The pleasant surprise was a heartfelt performance by Keegan Messing. Less than a month after his younger brother, Paxon, was killed when an SUV collided with his motorcycle, the 27-year-old Canadian closed the 12-man field with a riveting performance that left many in tears and drew a standing ovation.
"Coming here this week was a huge decision for me with everything that's happened," said Messing, who placed third with a 96.34. "I was trying to keep my mind very focused. I was distracting my mind a little bit while thinking about my wife who was sitting up in the stands supporting me. This was a very hard skate to come to. Just being on the ice the last few weeks has been one of the most difficult things that I've had to do. I've just tried to stay physically prepared, rely on my training and be able to put out a performance like that."
With every day being a struggle — mentally, emotionally and physically — Messing said he's made it a point to work specifically on his cardio, to ensure he was strong enough to compete. Set to Ed Sheeran's 2017 hit "Perfect," Messing said the routine was made specifically for his wife, Lane, whom he married this past summer. The song was also the first dance at their wedding, and it marked the first time he was able to perform his short program in front of his bride.
"I felt like it being dedicated to my wife was also a good distraction, especially for today," Messing said. "For her to be here to see it was very special to me. I have some great support here with me. My wife's here, both my parents and some very close friends for support. Honestly, I couldn't ask for a better situation ... I've got some good people so I'm feeling pretty good.
Messing electrified the thousands in attendance by opening the program with quad and triple toe loops, and then brilliantly landing his triple axel. At the end of his performance, with tears in his eyes and the crowd roaring — some crying along with him — Messing pointed to the sky as he skated off the ice and embraced his coach, Ralph Burghart, near the Kiss and Cry.
"All the elements seemed pretty solid today," Messing said. "I was just really happy to be able to come here and just skate and just trust that I could come here and do what I could do. I feel like the real test is going to be tomorrow for the long program, but I'm just going to take everything one step at a time. I'm just gonna focus on my support group that I have around me and we're just going to try and skate as I've always skated."
Dmitri Aliev, the 2018 European silver medalist and 2018 Russian national bronze medalist, was second at 96.57. Jason Brown, the 2015 U.S. national champion, was fourth at 83.45. Bradie Tennell, the 2018 U.S. national champion and 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist, led the women's field with a score of 75.10. Japan's Kaori Sakamoto turned in her season-best 73.25 to place second, while her teammate Wakaba Higuchi was third at 71.76.
In pairs, China's Cheng Peng and Yang Jin led at 72.73. Russia's Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin were second at 71.25, and Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc followed at 68.20. In rhythm dance, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue from the U.S. took first after scoring 83.45 with their short program. Russia's Alexandra Stepanov and Ivan Bukin placed second with 80.46, while Canada's Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen were third at 77.85.
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