Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps carry a big Canadian flag on a pole on a victory lap of the iceTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Passion, preparation, and partnership at the heart of Stellato-Dudek & Deschamps’ rise to world champions

At the moment Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps finished their gold medal-winning free skate at the 2024 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, the noise at the Bell Centre in Montreal was measured at more than 90 decibels.

As any diehard fan of the Montreal Canadiens – including Deschamps – would know, that’s not far off from what it’s like in that building when the hometown Habs score a big goal.

They weren’t caught off guard by that enthusiastic crowd reaction, though. In fact, they had practiced for that particular moment – imagining they were in the midst of a performance that would make them world champions.

Preparation has been key for this duo since their partnership formed in 2019.

Stellato-Dudek said as much immediately after their victory. “If you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.”

She has to take extra care to prepare her body for practice every day. That’s just a necessary part of her routine as a 40-year-old with an eye on making her Olympic debut two years from now. Not since 1928 has a woman over 40 competed in an Olympic figure skating event.

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps of Canada perform their free skate program in the pairs competition during the 2024 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, Thursday, March 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

“Her dedication to the sport is like another level,” said Deschamps, noting that after training she’ll do two to three hours of recovery to be sure she’s ready for the next day. “I call her my warrior because that’s what she is. For her, it’s the Olympics every day.”

The preparation for what has been Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps’ big breakout season started right after their fourth-place finish at the 2023 World Championships.

“It’s always hard to be that spot that’s right off the podium. We made a list of things that we wanted to improve upon,” explained Stellato-Dudek, the list-maker of the team, a couple days after they won the gold medal and she became the oldest woman to ever win a world title in figure skating. “As the summer was going, we slowly checked off everything.”

But however much better they believed they were, they wouldn’t know for sure until they tested themselves in competition. First up was a face off with the 2023 World Champions, Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan, at the Autumn Classic International. Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps came away as the winners, which made them start to think that a world championship podium would be possible.

“Then it becomes, oh, you put pressure on yourself and oh my goodness worlds is at home and there’s even more pressure. I think as the season went on, we just became more and more prepared for this moment,” said Stellato-Dudek.

“We have always aimed for a podium this year but as the season was going, we were aiming more and more for the top of the podium and we knew that coming here, with the crowd, it was going to help us, to support us with energy to be able to go through the program. But we have to be prepared to have that pressure also,” added Deschamps.

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps of Canada perform their pairs short program for the 2024 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Forming a successful pair partnership is not something that happens overnight. Ice dancer Paul Poirier pointed out that it usually takes a team a few years to figure out its identity. After coming together in 2019, Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps believe they now know what defines them.

“We’re a powerful team. We’re a strong team. And we really are, in my opinion, the most creative pair team on the market right now. We’re offering you a story every time we’re out there,” she said. “We want to create a moment, we want to mesmerize you and we want to bring you with us through our performance.”

That power and strength was something that Stellato-Dudek identified in Deschamps from the moment they first skated together in their tryout five years ago.

“I remember we were doing a pair spin, which is a simple element for pairs skaters. During an in-between moment where we switch positions, he pulled me so strong I felt and I thought to myself ‘oh my goodness this guy is not just strong’ – because most pair boys are strong, they’re lifting a human being over their head – but he was powerful and that’s something different,” she recalled.

For Deschamps, his first feeling was one of freedom on the ice.

“And that’s what really captivated me.”

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps wear their gold medals and smile
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps of Canada pose with their gold medals during the victory ceremony in the pairs competition during the 2024 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, Thursday, March 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

By that point, he had had eight partners throughout his career, including two as a senior skater. There had been some international competitive appearances, but not the kind of success that makes it easy to keep going.

However, he couldn’t deny the passion that he still had for skating and the dreams he held in his head. He maintained hope that the perfect match for him was out there, even though he was by then in his late 20s.

“Of course, I had a lot of lows. I thought about stopping multiple times. But that passion and dream that I had just kept me going,” he said. “Meeting Deanna was just so great. The freedom that I felt with her just made us be able to do what we do right now.”

“I remember we had a discussion after our tryout, and I could tell that his hunger to win and to succeed was the same as mine. And that sometimes is almost more important than the talent. But luckily Maxime also had the talent too,” she said.  

Finding the perfect match is one thing. But there are additional complications when partners come from two different countries.

Born and raised in the United States, Stellato-Dudek had been a world junior silver medallist in singles in 2000 before injuries soon forced her to retire. When she embarked on her comeback after 16 years away from the ice, she said that she wouldn’t pass on any opportunity. To skate with Deschamps, she uprooted her life to move north of the border to Montreal.

She happened to do that just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic overtook the world.

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps in blue costumes scream and raise their arms in celebration after seeing their socre
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps celebrate their short program score at the 2024 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal on March 20, 2024 (Greg Kolz)

“COVID was probably one of the most difficult times in my life, actually. Being so isolated here, completely by myself. The only person I was able to see was Maxime during that time,” she said of the long lockdown period. “At that point, when you’re so isolated and you can’t do what you moved across the country or the world to do, you’re thinking ‘oh my goodness, should I still be going after this dream? Is this really worth it?’ And I decided that it was.”

They trained in garages, on small ponds of “terrible” unflooded ice, whatever they could do within the restrictions.

“I could have never dreamed we would have been here [as world champions] during the pandemic,” Stellato-Dudek said. In fact, if the worlds had gone ahead in Montreal as scheduled in 2020, they wouldn’t have been there. Back then, she hadn’t yet received her release from the United States to be able to represent Canada internationally. 

“All the hard work we have done during COVID has paid off here,” said Deschamps.

“It feels very serendipitous,” added Stellato-Dudek.

The big goal ahead is what brought her back to competitive figure skating: win an Olympic gold medal. But to get to Milano Cortina 2026, she’ll need a Canadian passport in hand. She took a big step towards gaining citizenship when she received her permanent resident card last year.

“Oh, I cried,” she said.

“I remember,” he chimed in about receiving her phone call. “She wasn’t speaking, she was just crying.”

A spotlight follows a duo of pairs skaters as they perform a lift
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps perform during the exhibition gala at the 2024 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, Sunday, March 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

The process to get the paperwork is not something they dwell on in training. “But the thing I tell myself is the harder that I work and the better that I can do, the nicer I can make my curriculum vitae look for Canada, hopefully the more that they will want to help me,” she said.

Since she began living in Montreal, Stellato-Dudek has been making the effort to learn French. She has a streak of more than 1700 straight days of Duolingo lessons and wasn’t afraid to respond to some questions from reporters en français during the world championships.  

Over the last five years, there have been lots of lessons learned about each other that has only helped them become the best partners they can be for each other.

Maxime Deschamps spins his figure skating partner Deanna Stellato-Dudek
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps of Canada perform their pairs short program for the 2024 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Deschamps has been open about his diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but it is something they both have to be mindful of to curb any potential extreme reactions.

“He always needs to be, you know, given a joke and staying happy and I let him do that and I try to laugh at the jokes,” she said as they both chuckled. “If he is coming down really hard, knowing that, what can we do to still be productive in that moment.

“It takes more than just hard work to be a champion. I think it takes creativity. I think it takes thinking outside the box and we certainly help each other to do that,” she continued.

As for all the talk of her age, Stellato-Dudek says that her constant setting of records as the oldest to do something in figure skating is a point of pride as she aims to accomplish her dreams.

“I hope a lot of athletes stay around longer. I hope [our success] encourages people not to stop before they’ve reached their potential. And I hope it transcends into other areas, not just in sports, but also in other areas of life like work and professional careers.”

READ: World title at home is “dream come true” for figure skaters Stellato-Dudek & Deschamps