Liam Firus, the artist at work

In his skating life, Liam Firus has encountered a series of Mount Everests.

Finally, this season, he may be ready to scale them, plant the flag at the top, and make his own moment in the scheme of things.

The 23-year-old skater from North Vancouver is headed to Finlandia Trophy this week to show us all what he’s got. And judging by his mindset and his performances this summer and at the national training camp, it may behoove one to lay down the knitting needles and café mochas to take notice.

Firus, twice a national bronze medalist, has always been an exquisite skater, rather Chan-like in his strokes, very musical and emotive. He earned the highest component marks in the men’s event at the 2015 Canadian championships. But this season, with his new “Blues for Klook” short program, Firus has taken a step beyond. It’s stunning.

He’s long wanted to skate to Eddy Louiss’ “Blues for Klook,” particularly since he watched his idol, Daisuke Takahashi use it for his free skate to win the silver medal at the 2012 world championships in Nice, France. It was an inspired performance. The languid jazz piece isn’t new to figure skating arenas. Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin used it to win the 1993 world championships in Prague, and just about everything else they contested that year. It was a thing of beauty.

And so is Firus’ version. Mark Pillay, expert at packaging Firus, did the choreography. “It’s very different for me,” Firus said. “I don’t know if I can do it as well as [Takahashi], but we put a new twist to it.”

The blues requires more emotion, more face, more style, Firus said. “It’s not like a pretty program. It’s loose. It’s gritty. I’m used to doing that nice classical-line stuff. That’s what the long [to Moulin Rouge] is about. “

He loved the Blues, but didn’t quite know what to do with it. He needed help. And because he trains in Colorado Springs, he doesn’t get to see Pillay every week. He and coach Christy Krall decided to opt for a new secret weapon: Christopher Dean. It was Krall’s idea. “What would you think about working with Christopher Dean?” she asked. “Yeah, sure,” Firus said. “And we started. And it’s awesome.”

Firus hadn’t been born when Dean and Jayne Torvill rocked the ice dance world during the 1980s with their riveting style and expression and choreography. He knew Dean represented excellence, but “I didn’t really know.”

But last summer, he had a first-hand look at the magic. “He’s amazing,” Firus said. “When he does his movement, it’s motivating watching him. When it does it, okay, I want that feeling. He can transfer the feeling. I need to transfer the feeling on the ice. “

They work about 45 minutes, perhaps as much as an hour and a half a week. “He’s so different,” Firus said. “He’s so motivating. When you’re working with him, you feel like you are the only student he has. He gives so much in his lessons.” Dean helped him learn how to place his hand, his fingers, everything.

Firus is keeping his long program to “Moulin Rouge” although he had a long program choreographed earlier in the season. After working on it for about a month and a half, both he and Krall realized it just wasn’t clicking.  Firus believes his exquisite “Moulin Rouge” has more room to grow. Last year, he rarely presented it the way he wanted to.

Since last year, Firus’ speed has improved and so has his power. “Everything has come together this year,” he said. Last year, the post-Olympic season, was tough, he said. He couldn’t get motivated. The Olympics had gutted him.

He had made his dream come true by getting onto the Olympic team for Sochi, but he had been an underdog and had started the season late with a serious injury. Everything happened in a whirlwind. While his teammates soared in Sochi, Firus froze. He finished 28th, and didn’t make the cut for the long program.

“The Olympics was a weird experience for me,” he said. “I really had an unusual Olympics. It’s one of my main goals to go back and redeem myself. It was horrible. It was drastic, and that was so unfortunate. That’s not how I had been training that year. I was like, wow, how do I come back from this?”

Negative thoughts trudged through his mind. “Did I screw up my skating future with this one performance?” Firus asked himself. He lived by himself for the first time during Olympic season, and found his thoughts centred only on skating. He’s a perfectionist and hard on himself.

This season, Firus says he’s parked it all. His Olympic demise is in the past. He’s decided that if he doesn’t make the next Olympic team, it’s because he is not skating well at the time. He believes he has the goods to do it.

There’s more confidence about him, even though he suffered a bad fall attempting his nemesis jump, the triple Axel and created a hairline fracture of a tibia to his right leg in early July. He didn’t let himself get bummed out about it. He said he took off 2 ½ weeks. Krall said he missed six weeks over the summer. But Firus just knew he’d have to buckle down when he got back onto the ice. And he has.

The triple Axel is no longer a weight on his mind. That’s because he’s tackled the quadruple toe loop this season and he’s finding it much easier than the Axel, as many do. There’s a video out there of Firus at a Broadmoor Summer competition in June landing a quad toe beautifully, but he swings out of the frame for the rest. The shadows show it. He actually landed a quad toe – triple toe combination. Yes, believe it or not, he really did.

He won the competition, and defeated US champ Jason Brown. “I thought, if I can compete with Jason Brown, I can compete with anybody,” he said.

Firus is usually a late bloomer and his first competition is normally rough. But Firus landed a quad in the short program and then at the Jump competition, did the quad-triple. “I’ve only tried two and I’ve stood up on both of them,” he said. “I can really use my momentum and collect nicely [for the quad]. And even the Axel has improved. Because the quad is so hard, it gives you perspective on how easy the other things are.”

He’s also learning this year not to take things so seriously. He’s not punishing himself so much when first working jumps into a newly choreographed routine. “There’s no way it should be perfect,” he said. “You’re falling everywhere. I was a perfectionist and I want it too fast. “But this time, Firus has worked through it.

And now that he’s been with Krall for two years, the two have learned much about each other and how to work together. It takes two years, he said.

Now he has more balance in his life. He used to feel guilty about watching a movie past midnight. Now he lets himself enjoy life more. And he has a roommate, Alex Johnson, a U.S. senior men’s competitor, who like Firus, takes university courses. They can bounce ideas and problems off each other. And Firus now has a dog, too: Simon, who helps put things into perspective. Simon, a little terrier mix, doesn’t care if Firus lands his quad or not.

This season, Firus would like to finish within the top three at the Canadian championships again, but most importantly, he wants to skate with consistency from start to finish. And deliver each competition better than the last. At Finlandia, he’ll be up against Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, Konstantin Menshov and Sergei Voronov of Russia and Adam Rippon of the United States.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing Liam this year,” Krall said. [Finlandia] will be a great test for him to strut his stuff.”

“I’m very encouraged that he will break through to the other side,” she said. “That would be a beautiful thing. If he puts the whole package together, he is definitely at the top. It’s going to be fun to watch.”


Patrick Chan finds his rhythm

Patrick Chan has been through the valley of doubt and has come through  the other side. The proof? He took part at Skate Canada’s national team training camp on Wednesday in Mississauga, Ont.,  along with the best figure skaters in the country.

Yes, he had his doubts after a year off, trying to get his body back into competitive shape, trying to get those triple Axels and quads back after hitting the show circuit last season.

“There were moments when I called [coach Kathy Johnson] and [felt] like: ‘What am I doing? Why am I doing this? This is really stupid. Should I really be doing this? Should I really be coming back?” he recalled.

Those were the rough days, the ones he knew deep down that he had to muddle through. “There was a sense of worry,” he said. “Am I ever going to do it again? Maybe I’m too old for this. Maybe my body just can’t do it anymore. And that mixed  in with trying to lose weight to be more competitive and athletic. That all mixed together made it kind of frustrating.”

But there he was in Mississauga, slipping around the ice like the old Patrick Chan, with the effortless speed and command of the blade. Reigning Canadian champion Nam Nguyen found it cool, and quite interesting to see Chan whip by him at the speed of light.

Chan said over the past several weeks, when he first showed off his “Mack The Knife” short program at a north Toronto rink, he’s lost about eight pounds, and that has made all the difference. By the end of the Stars on Ice tour, he weighed 158 pounds. When he competed at the Sochi Olympics, winning the silver medal, he weighed 153-154. But really, he wanted to be at 150, which is what he weighed when he won his first world title in 2011. “I noticed that my quads and my jumps were much lighter and my margin for error – my air position – was much larger so if I didn’t feel perfect in the air, I was still able to save itm” he said.

Yes, men do think about their weight in figure skating too. Chan has noticed that weight makes “a huge difference” in the quality of jumps, the lift he can get off the ice and the flow out of the jump.

The good news is that Chan knew he’d have to take the time to rein himself into shape, because it would be slow at first. Therefore he got his programs done early, in June, giving himself a nice chunk of time to “weather the bumps and the ups and downs and get through it.

“I think now I’m in the good rhythm of things,” he said. “I’m comfortable training again.”

He’s coming at competition this year with a dangerous mindset – dangerous to others, that is. “I feel like I’m really doing it because I want to,” he said. “I make sure every day that I’m in because I want to be in. I don’t force myself to do anything, honestly, because I’ve been through this. I know I can make myself do it if I want to. Let’s say I’m not feeling great one day, because I’ve got a cold. I’m smart enough to know that I should take time to rest and not push through stuff that I know my body won’t be able to do.”

He’s training smarter and he’s not back to further up the ante on all the crazy quad jumping that’s going on everywhere. He’s seen everybody doing the quads, including Nguyen. Good, says Chan, Bring it on. It’s great for skating. It brings more excitement and it’s good for Canada.

But he’s not focused on killing himself doing quads. He’s been in both worlds, the show circuit and the competitive one, and “when you focus on the quad so much, it really does take away from the quality of skating and the quality of the performance,” said Chan. “And that’s not what I’m about at this point ion my career.”

No, Chan is more about handing out goosebumps with a performance, making people get off their seats with joy, and feeling the chills creep up the spine. “That’s what I really live for, not the jumps,” he said.

He’s also going into it with a good measure of generosity. Nguyen is now his competitor. And since Chan has been gone, Nguyen has exploded onto the scene, finishing fifth at the world championships at age 16. The way Chan sees it, he’s at Nguyen’s disposal. In other words, he’ll help him to defeat him.

Chan remembers when he competed against world champion Jeffrey Buttle, a brilliant artist that Chan admitted he never opened up to. He never went to him and asked his advice: What’s it like being at the world championships in the last group? What’s it like skating last at the Olympics? In retrospect, Chan thinks he should have asked. Now he and Buttle are “best buds.” Buttle has choreographed programs for him.

“When you’re at that age, you’re in your own world in a way,” Chan said. “But I’m always here to try to give advice. I think I’ve had a lot of experience in my career that I can share. That’s why we go through these experiences, so that we can share.”

Spoken like a true champ.

Chan won’t do a senior B competition, but he’ll probably show up at a competition in Quebec later this month, just to get his short program out there. He’ll compete at the Japan Open in early October again. Last year, he won it.