With world records falling about his ears, young upstart Chinese skaters landing ultimate quads, and everybody looking at him with expectations, Patrick Chan could easily panic, spill his pearls in the change room and cry into his skating boots.
But he’s not.
One step at a time, he says. It’s not time for the full arsenal of tricks to be thrown madly onto his element list. For now, he plans to add a second triple Axel to his long program at the national championships next week in Halifax. That means he plans two quad toe loops (one in combination) and two triple Axels (one in combination) in his free skate.
The second triple Axel will be in combination with a double toe loop.
“This is the first time I’m raising the level of difficulty in the program in a long time,” Chan said. “I’m constantly trying to challenge myself to keep myself on my toes and know that I can still do those difficult elements. Because if I can’t, then that might be a sign that I shouldn’t be competing, especially with how difficult the level of technical elements is right now.”
He has to stay on top of it all, and perhaps down the road, he’ll get a quad Salchow in the mix. That likely won’t happen by the world championships in Boston, he said.
Skate Canada has crunched all the numbers about what Chan can accomplish if he skates cleanly and maximizes his points – comparing it to Yuzuru Hanyu’s explosive world records and exploits at the Grand Prix Final, where Chan did not win a medal. “With adding that second triple Axel, it closes the gap quite a bit,” Chan said. Then another thing to take into consideration: in either of his free skates this year, Chan planned two quads but did only one. Even so, he chalked up more than 190 points for each free skate.
“I have to play it smart and strategically, which I may not have done going into Sochi,” he said.
It all doesn’t mean that Chan isn’t feeling the heat from what he’s had to face in the skating world after taking a year off to skate on tours and shows. He’s felt frustration and motivation at the sight of it all. “I’ve had both ends of the spectrum,” he said. “There have been days where I’ve been training and I’m definitely mad at Kathy [Johnson – coach] and saying how frustrating it is to now have to push myself beyond what I think my body is able to do – at the moment.”
But in his mind, his race this season isn’t to see how quickly he can slip back into the stream and add a fourth world title. He’s looking beyond, to 2018. The added triple Axel is his first step. The triple Axel (Hanyu’s best jump) has long been his nemesis, but it’s been better this year, and now it’s time to step up and add the second one. “Rather than panicking and wanting to throw all these jumps into the program, I need to have patience and be smart about it,” Chan said. “Then I won’t hurt myself, which is most important.”
When the second triple Axel becomes consistent, Chan can move on and start thinking about the quad Salchow – if it’s necessary, he says. And it probably will be. “It’s easy to panic by looking at the results. Not winning a medal at the Grand Prix Final, it’s a natural reaction to panic and think that I don’t have a third quad. But that’s not it at all.
“I just had a bad short program, didn’t realize the rules and then the long program, I was still missing the second quad. I haven’t given myself the chance to prove that [I can] max out the points in these programs.
“I think staying calm and sticking to the plan and just adding little things technically, will eventually give me a lot of success.”
Taking a little step back in time this season? Chan didn’t have his best short program at Skate Canada International when he fell on a triple Axel and doubled a Lutz, losing all points. He finished second to Daisuke Murakami, but Hanyu had a nightmare effort, finishing sixth with 73.25 points after doubling his quad and doing a triple Lutz –double toe loop which became an entirely invalid element.
In the free, Chan soared, winning the gold medal with 190.33 points, winning that free program on the strength of his components (Hanyu defeated him technically). Chan delivered everything, but tripled a quad toe. Hanyu landed three quads, one of them not totally clean and fell on a triple Lutz to finish with 186.29. But apparently, that was just Hanyu, finding his feet, revving up the engines for what was to come.
Chan had another bad day, a really bad one, at the Bompard Trophy in France, where he finished fifth in the short program, after a double toe loop – double toe loop combo that should have been a quad-triple and then stumbling out of his triple Axel. Because the long program was cancelled after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Chan did not get the chance to show that he could make a comeback. He did that at the Grand Prix Final, once again, having to make a comeback after his “Mack the Knife” short program, which he has struggled to master. In fact, he’s had troubles mixing the technical elements with a routine that forces him to skate as if he is in a show. He hasn’t figured out the mix yet.
Hanyu went on to set world records at NHK Trophy, where he suddenly unleashed two quads in the short program as well as three in the long, earning 106.33 in the short and 216.07 in the long, for 322.40 points.
At the Grand Prix Final, Chan once again put himself out of competition with a troubled short program, finishing last of six after he tripled a quad toe, and then did a triple Lutz – triple toe loop, which became invalid because of the repetition of the toe loop – similar to what Hanyu did at Skate Canada.
He did roar back to skate much like he did at Skate Canada International, to be third in the free (192.84 points) and fourth overall with 263.45 points, 66.98 points behind Hanyu. It’s understandable that at this point, there are few Chan believers. He’s been eclipsed as he has stumbled his way back into competition mode.
Both had five jumping passes in the second half of their programs, but one of Hanyu’s is a quad-triple and a triple Axel series, huge point-getters.
Chan learned a lot from his Grand Prix Final adventure, he said. “It was definitely a very frustrating experience going through practices, where things weren’t going right,” he said. “I felt like I had never skated before. But I learned so much after the long program, knowing that I could be in last place going into the long program and still being able to keep myself together and go for it. I think I never thought I could do it or put myself in that situation and still succeed.
“..I reminded myself again that this is my first year back after a while,” he said. “All this year, I feel like I should be up at Yuzu and [Javier Fernandez’s] level, but I have to be really smart and intelligent and really understand what kind of situation that I am in, and how different it is.”
For the first time, he is competing with routines that have lyrics. He says it’s a challenge. He’s grown up skating to classical music, not “Mack the Knife”, which demands a different level of performance. “I think the closest program that I’ve had that has had that level of performance is maybe ‘Take Five,’” he said. “But ‘Mack the Knife’ is on another level. I’ve gotten better as a skater since ‘Take Five.’
And Chan has taken one last little stumble on his way to Halifax, where he competed in 2007 in his second season as a senior and created chatter about his promise. He was supposed to skate at a Skate Detroit national competition send-off recently but had to pull out after he injured a knee.
He warmed up to do his “Mack the Knife” routine for the show and landed a quad with a bit of a step out. But as he stepped off his landing leg, his blade caught the ice. The incident jerked his leg back and hyperextended his knee.
He had already irritated the patellar tendon in his knee from other incidents, and hadn’t given it a chance to strengthen. Now he’s a regular visitor to the physiotherapist, but he said it’s healing well. “I feel confident that I’ll feel 100 per cent when I get to nationals,” he said.
All in all, Chan says for the first time this season, he feels calm about competing. “I’m not feeling like I’m trying to catch up,” he said. “I had a great break during the New Year and was able to recuperate after the Final and reassess some little things that we needed to change.”
“It’s good,” he said. “Nationals is always a blast.”
Sure, he’s going for his eighth Canadian title, but for Chan, there is much more at stake, trying out new elements for the first time. “I’m just getting my legs underneath me this year,” he said. He’s looking at the long view to making the next two years to the 2018 Olympics smoother than this season.