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Canada’s Stellato-Dudek, Deschamps jump into pairs lead at figure skating worlds | CBC Sports

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Deanna Stellato-Dudek matched the home crowd’s energy with fist pumps and elated cheers at centre ice.

Maxime Deschamps called it “definitely the most emotional performance of my career.”

“It was really special,” he said.

Competing on home soil, the Canadian pair jumped into first place in the short program Wednesday afternoon at the world figure skating championships at Montreal’s Bell Centre.

Stellato-Dudek, of Chicago, and Deschamps, of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., set a personal-best with a 77.48 score while skating to Cirque du Soleil’s “Oxygene” as an ode to Montreal.

The partisan crowd of about 5,000 responded with a standing ovation for one of Canada’s top medal contenders this week.

“This was our best short program of the year,” Stellato-Dudek said. “It being the program that we chose as a tribute to Montreal, I’m very happy that we can give the audience a good ride.”

WATCH | Stellato-Dudek, Deschamps soar to top spot:

Canadian pair Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps skate out to big lead at world championships in Montreal

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps won the pairs short program at the ISU world figure skating championships in Montreal.

The pair shattered their previous best of 73.05 and took a solid lead over their competition heading into Thursday evening’s free program.

Defending champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan were second (73.53) ahead of Italy’s Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii (72.88).

“It was really a culmination of a year’s work,” Deschamps said. “We’ve worked hard all year, it hasn’t always been perfect but we gave ourselves objectives and each time we succeeded in reaching those.

“Today we were able to put it all together.”

They also overcame plenty of nerves to do it.

Though American, Stellato-Dudek is confident she’ll receive Canadian citizenship before the 2026 Olympics and treats Montreal as home.

The 40-year-old retired from the sport at age 17 due to a chronic hip injury before returning 16 years later and eventually moving to Quebec to join forces with the 32-year-old Deschamps.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ That Figure Skating Show previews worlds:

That Figure Skating show previews the world championships in Montreal

Asher Hill brings you all you need to know, including a season recap and his Podium Picks. Live coverage runs March 20-24 on cbcsports.ca & CBC GEM.

They say Wednesday’s crowd was filled with family, friends and children they skate with at their rink in nearby Sainte-Julie, Que. — a couple of whom were flower girls.

“I am way more nervous for this event than I have been for others,” Stellato-Dudek said. “Because it is a home worlds, and because I know a lot of people in the audience, including some people who never watch me skate and they’re here watching me skate, so I want them to think I’m cool.”

Despite jumping into the driver’s seat, they say their work is not done.

“Tomorrow’s a new day, a lot can happen in the long [program],” Stellato-Dudek said. “We just need to focus on what we can do.”

Watch live coverage of the World Figure Skating Championships on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

It’s Montreal’s first time hosting the event since 1932 and the first world championship on Canadian soil since 2013 in London, Ont. Canada has hosted the competition 11 times.

Montreal was supposed to host the worlds in 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the competition mere days before it was set to begin.

Boost from home crowd

Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps weren’t the only Canadians to get a boost from the patient fans who waited four years for the event.

Lia Pereira of Milton, Ont., and Trennt Michaud of Brantford, Ont., advanced with a ninth-place finish (64.83). Pereira called performing at home on this stage a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“We really felt that today,” she said. “To feel the energy and the atmosphere of the crowd is so amazing.”

WATCH | Pairs short program:

ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2024 Montreal: Pairs short program

Watch the pairs short program at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships from Montreal.

Kelly Ann Laurin of Saint-Jerome, Que., and Loucas Ethier of St-Alphonse, Que., placed 14th with a personal-best 60.18 to also qualify for the free program.

“It was a very, very special feeling,” said Ethier. “People were telling us how special it was going to be, but there was no way we could prepare for that. It gave us wings.”

“I had goosebumps,” he added. “I was skating and I was telling myself to stay concentrated but to live in the moment and use that energy. It was really special to have the whole crowd behind us.”

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx, Isabeau Levito of the United States and Haein Lee of South Korea ranked first to third respectively after the women’s short program.

Two-time defending champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan ranked fourth. She could be the first woman to three-peat since American Peggy Fleming from 1966 to 1968. Madeline Schizas of Oakville, Ont., was 17th after the short program.

Competition continues Thursday with the men’s short program and ends Saturday night with the men’s free program.

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