The men’s short program in Vancouver

VANCOUVER

From the mists of Vancouver finally emerged Patrick Chan. And he is shedding some rust.

“It’s slippery,” he said, after he fell on his opening quad toe loop, then sliding unceremoniously on his side. Thinking on his feet, he added a triple toe loop to his triple Lutz, but then stepped out of a triple Axel.

But, oh, those wonderful feet. Nothing like it. We have missed this Patrick Chan.

Chan still leads with 90.98, a rather healthy 4.78 points ahead of Kevin Reynolds, who meant to do a quad Salchow – triple toe loop, but it turned into a triple-triple, still getting him 9.30 points. He edged Chan on the technical mark, and was well behind on components.

In third place is bubbly Keegan Messing, who descended from the rather chillier Alaska, looking for an Olympic spot. There are only two of them. As Roman Sadovsky says, it’s a “free-for-all” for that second spot.

And that newly minted Sadovsky, always thought to be a pretty but not a technical skater. Sadovsky was the ONLY man to attempt two quads in the short. Sadovsky lost a GOE or two on his quad Salchow –triple toe loop, but it still earned him 13.09 points. And for the first time in his life, he landed a quadruple toe loop in a competition, getting 8.59 for it.

“It’s a good step up for me,” he said.

He had been working on a quad toe loop just before he found out – at the last minute – that he was going to Skate America in Lake Placid, so he took that jump out, because he didn’t feel it was ready. If he’d only had another week of training, it would have been there. Sadovsky doesn’t believe it makes a lot of sense to try a quad if it’s not totally ready: it erodes confidence when you miss it.

It was a good experience for him nonetheless. He had never competed at a senior Grand Prix before, and there he was skating with Nathan Chen and all the rest.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself, hoping that I could skate the best that I could, but I wasn’t completely ready, “ he said.

Now he has the training behind him.

Sadovsky underrotated and fell on a triple Axel, but he said he just didn’t quite get the takeoff. “But I had it there,” he said. “I had the right mindset but it didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to.”

Indeed, Sadovsky has been through a lot over the past four years. Then, he was the smallest skater in the group, now he’s one of the tallest. He isn’t sure just how tall he is, and throws out six feet. Some think he is taller.

“I had maybe last year and the year before where I was really up and down when I just really wanted to skate with a bang, really,” he said.

He admits he’s going all in with two quads, trying to earn that second Olympic spot. Hoping and thinking that will help him out.

“People always said I was a good skater, but I never quite matched the group technically,” he said. “So now I feel like I’ve stepped up the game with two quads in the short and if I can do more in the long….”

Sadovsky is in seventh place with 78.72 points, behind Elladj Balde, Nam Nguyen and Nicolas Nadeau. Only Balde had no quad.

Most heartbreaking moment of the day: Liam Firus, an Olympian four years ago, is in only ninth place after a strange replay of an incident that plagued him in the short program last year.

Last year a suspender came undone at the end of a spin – a huge distraction – and everything went wrong in the program. He ended up seventh, off the national team. He had won a medal he previous three years.

This time, a pant strap came undone. Firus looked down, saw it, stopped skating, ripped it off, shoved it in his pants – nobody wants a program-stop deduction – and then tried to sail into his triple Lutz-triple toe loop combo. But the distraction hobbled him. He turned out of the Lutz, and couldn’t do the second part. “I wasn’t focused at all,” he said.

He’s in ninth place and came off the ice, understandably upset.

“Unfortunately, I think that Olympic dream might be over,” he said, sadly.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he added, his voice breaking. “It’s just bad luck. I did everything I could. But everything was just out of control. It ‘s happened two years in a row.

“The Lutz-toe would have put me in first or second.” He’s now hoping for a spot on the Four Continents or world team, if he can redeem himself in the free.

Chan remains hopeful. He knows that missing competitions last fall contributed to his effort last night. “It’s just getting out more to compete more,” he said.

“Unfortunately I spent time during the Grand Prix season in a different way,” he said. “I’m kind of finding the right place for myself, which is also a big part of skating. I’ll just make the best of today.

‘”I’m excited for tomorrow as opposed to dreading it. That’s a big bonus.”

This event will serve as good training for him.

Chan admitted that nerves kicked in because this event is only his second of the season. “But that’s where I can look back on my experience and look back at the 15 nationals I’ve been to and even world championships and it’s not a race. It’s just going along, with my process, how I want to do it.”

Chan said he fell on his quad because his right arm was already in front of him while he launched and his body wasn’t square. So the jump didn’t have much height or lightness. This heavier, into-the-ice feeling could have caused the trip. Chan skates by feel.

“It was a bit of a shock,” he said. “But you know what? I got up and recovered.”

This year has taught him a strategy: he goes week by week. He won’t look too far ahead and “stress yourself out for no reason.”

He still dreams of doing that quad combo with a “swish.

“That’s what we live for,” he said. “And I think I lost that a little bit. I kind of got pulled away and pulled in many directions.

“But I think I’m starting to find it again.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Patrick Chan, pulling himself to the finish

So much of what Patrick Chan does is linked to emotion, his inner life, how it feels to do something, what it means to him.

It gives him a restless foot.

And that’s how he’s found himself in Vancouver for the past couple of months to prepare for the national skating championships and Olympics, thousands of miles away from Detroit, where he’s hung his hat for three years or so.

The final tipping point was Skate Canada International last October in Regina, not the most glamorous of spots in his world itinerary. But everything went wrong. After a frustrating trip, with flight delays, missed connections, and missing costumes, Chan outwardly said it relaxed him, and he’d skate in a borrowed shirt if he had to.

But “running around like a dog in the airport trying to get on a plane,” left him unsettled and unhappy. And then he completely fell apart in the long program, dropping from second after the short to fourth overall. And it wasn’t pretty. Not at all. Chan called it his worst skate on the international stage. It wasn’t the way to get to the Olympics. No doubt the pressure was on.

But it was more than a missing suitcase that hobbled Chan. He had already announced he was scaling back his quads for Skate Canada, because he felt fear every time he took his opening pose, thinking of the formidable jumping tasks he had to accomplish as Canada’s skating flag bearer. It undermined his confidence. He was unhappy. Jumps weren’t his thing. His magnificent footwork and skating abilities – hitting top speed in a stride or two – didn’t seem enough in this new world of quads. While he was away on a respite, the skating world changed.

After Skate Canada, Chan took about 10 days off, just to gather his thoughts and “really think well and hard about my motivation and my determination to go for it,” he said. He had come to a crossroads. He had to decide which path to take. He pulled out of NHK, which also lost Yuzuru Hanyu to practice injury, and he lost any chance of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. He disappeared completely from the conversation.

He headed for Vancouver, where he has friends, and finally stepped on the ice a couple of times. And it was only then that he decided to go on. He started with light training. Baby steps. Then in mid-November, he really began to work again. He buckled down, knew he wasn’t going back to Detroit and began to choose the people he wanted to help him make the run to the Olympics.

This wandering minstrel has actually, moved every few years to train. He started out in Toronto under Osborne Colson, but when he died, Chan followed Don Laws to Florida. But it was a lonely existence for a young, outdoorsy guy, and he moved to Christy Krall in Colorado Springs, where she helped his quad game. Indeed, Chan was the first to bring back the quad after the 2010 Olympics. He then forged a relationship with his dance instructor Kathy Johnson and had to find another rink: Detroit it was. When the relationship with Johnson no longer worked, Chan moved to another spot in Detroit. All suburban Detroit. And while he did so, many of his friends, like Eladj Balde and others left. Overall, he’s been in Detroit for several years. He’s been training in the United States for seven years.

So he’s come back home. And he says it feels good. Not only is the exchange rate to his advantage (The Canadian dollar is worth at least 20 per cent less than the U.S. dollar), but he’s able to take advantage more easily of everything that being a national team athlete offers: off-ice training, physiotherapists, massage, chiropractic medicine. His new trainer, Anna Aylwin is just over the Rockies in Calgary, working at the Canadian Sports Institute in Calgary. She’s a specialist in strength and sport physiology. And then there’s Kelly Quipp, an exercise physiologist there. Together, they are mapping out Chan’s training sessions.

The plan? It’s day to day. Week to week. It’s not as if there has been a plan from November. His Calgary family started out by telling him he had so many weeks to get the work done, and this is the way to handle it. “Yeah, I did lose a lot of time,” he admitted.

Coach? Well, Chan now has a team. Ravi Walia, based in Edmonton, has been helping Chan. Chan has gone to Edmonton a few times to work with him. Liz Putman, a former national pair skater, is the creative director at the Coquitlam club in British Columbia. She’s writing plans out, talking to Walia and the folks at the Canadian Sport Institute and making sure everyone is on the same page. “It’s been great,” Chan said. It’s also seems very complicated.

But for his inner life, British Columbia has been a boon. He gets to live in a big city – so different from his last decade – and all he has to do to change his environment is to head for nearby mountains. “It’s a really short commute to beautiful hikes,” he said. “I’m still getting outside and exercising, but also getting some inspiration from my environment.”

Chan said life in Detroit was starting to take a toll. He’d go home from the rink and feel like there wasn’t much to motivate him outside the arena.

“I felt like my environment was taking a toll on my mental well-being and I wanted to be in a place that was inspiring,” he said. “I’m very much an athlete that is influenced by his environment. I’ve noticed that one of the biggest things that attracted me to the western part of Canada, was first of all, being back in Canada, and not feeling like a stranger as I go about my life every day.”

Walia will be the coach that stands by the boards with him at the Olympics. But Walia’s first priority is world silver medalist Kaetlyn Osmond. If there is a conflict, then his mentor from the Detroit club, Oleg Epstein, will stand with Chan by the boards.

Marina Zoueva says she’s still in contact with Chan and is happy to help in any way. And she loves him and feels he’s special and unique.

As for Chan, he’s dealing with a lot more than environment. “At this part of my career, this is where things get really tough,” he said. He’s 27 years old. Already people are presenting him with opportunities for his post-skating career. He can’t think of them right now, but they’re there, all in a “whirlwind.”

While others like Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are celebrating the final competitions that they will do this season, one by one, Chan hasn’t been in that head space. Whilw Virtue and Moir have been setting world records, Chan has been losing a quad race, falling behind his peers. However, he has learned to “embrace every single day that I get the chance to come in and skate and do something that I’m good at and it feels great to do.”

As for all his post-skating opportunities, Chan has to put them at the back of his mind. “They are all kind of waiting in the curtain for their turn,” he said. “I’m going about one goal at a time and right now that’s nationals next week and the Olympics.” He has no idea if he will go on to the world championships. It hasn’t entered his mind. He said nobody at Skate Canada had discussed the world championships. However, he would be particularly useful for Skate Canada, to set up men’s berths for next season.

As for quads, Chan sees himself as a “Switzerland” lying in the middle of skaters who are solely artistic, and those, like Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou and Boyang Jin, who fire out more and more difficult quads. “We all pick our own battles and I’ve picked mine,” Chan said. He’ll stick with the strategy that he adopted before Skate Canada: one quad in the short, two in the long, all of them quad toe loops. His quad Salchows aren’t in the picture. “I shouldn’t feel diminished,” he said. “I can offer a lot in so many other ways than just quads.”

Well, that’s what Adam Rippon does. He has a totally different mindset. Nothing will stop him. He’s proud of what he does and he does it well.

For now, Chan feels motivated, if not inspired. “I feel a push to keep striving, whether it’s a good day or a bad day,” he said. “I always see the light at the end of the tunnel lately and I was missing that. The light thinned quite a bit when I was in Michigan.”

His comeback hasn’t been all he imagined. His focus is to set a record by winning his tenth senior national championship and to contribute to the team event in Pyeongchang. Canada has a good shot at a gold medal. That gold medal would mean just as much as an individual medal to Chan. “It may not be the same for another skater or another teammate, gut for me at this point in my career, anything at this point is a bonus.”

Hallelujah, Chan finally arrives at Skate Canada

REGINA

What a day (or two) Patrick Chan has had.

He missed the first men’s practice on Thursday at Skate Canada International. And he arrived just in time to take the ice for the second men’s practice. Without a suitcase. Which means, at the moment, he has no clothes, just practice clothes. And thankfully, his skates.

Chan was to arrive in Regina on Wednesday. His itinerary? He was to fly from Detroit to Toronto and then on to Regina.

He couldn’t get off the ground in Detroit. His flight from Detroit was delayed by four or five hours and he missed is connection in Toronto. By then, it was late in the day, so he stayed the night in Toronto.

Somewhere, and somehow, his luggage went missing. “I might have to borrow a shirt [for competition,],” he said. Luckily, I have friends here.”

Chan has his skates because in North America, skaters can take them in their carry-on luggage. “The TSA has allowed it,” Chan said. “In Asia and Europe, I don’t know. But in the past, they’ve made me check in my skates once I arrived in Europe and was connecting in Europe.”

Chan said all the problems he’s had the past two days have been a good test. “The whole hectic travel day,” he mourned. “It’s frustrating. I’ll be honest. Like anybody, I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I’m running around like a dog in the airport, trying to get on a plane. It’s a bit ridiculous.

“But that’s travel. You can’t really control that.”

Chan said he looks at the incident as an opportunity. He said his misfortunes have relaxed him here. He’s going to roll with the punches. “If I don’t have a costume, I don’t have a costume,” he said. “I have my skates. I’ll show up. That’s all I can do.. It’s a good adventure.”

He went out on the ice and practiced his “Hallelujah” free skate, obviously not making jumps the priority. You could see the beauty of it.

There’s no chance his luggage will arrive by the end of Thursday. Perhaps the luggage will finally show up tomorrow, if he’s lucky. He’s hoping it will arrive before competition starts. The men’s event is in the early evening Friday. He at least would like to see his long-program costume again.

So Chan is chilling. Skate Canada International is like a reunion for him, to see his teammates and old friends. He’s here. And ready.

Patrick Chan deletes a quad – for now

You have to feel for these guys. These single men’s skaters who are going to war this season to out-power all who lie in their paths. They will rotate like spinning tops. They will try to defy gravity, shrug at it, taunt it like fiends. They are coming close to Cirque de Soleil performers who defy death with their tricks.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan discovered how quickly things change in this discipline when he took a year off. When he won the silver medal at the 2014 Olympics, champ Yuzuru Hanyu did a quad  toe loop and a quad Salchow.

Patrick Chan won two silver medals at the 2014 Olympics.

 

When Chan returned, all hell had broken loose. Kids like Nathan Chen, 16 last year, was doing quad Lutz, quad flip, all sorts of astounding feats, like becoming the first to land five quads in a program. And Hanyu can’t resist the challenge. Last season, he became the first to do a quad loop in competition. Hanyu, by the way, is about five years younger than Chan with a wonderfully noodly-thin body that just flies. And rotates at will.

Strangely enough, Chan’s first Olympic Games was in Vancouver in 2010 and the men’s event was won by Evan Lysacek, who executed no quads at all. And it was Chan who brought quads back, because the International Skating Union increased the value of them. And Chan was quick to take full advantage. It became hard to catch him, because he excelled in all areas of skating.

That’s just not true anymore. There’s a week to go before the men’s event at Skate Canada International in Regina and today we heard of Chen landing a quad Lutz combination and a quad flip enroute to winning the short program over Hanyu at the first Grand Prix of the year, the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. And  a few hours later, we heard Patrick Chan talking about not increasing the number of his quads, but scaling them back for Regina.

Holy Hannah.

The guy is just overwhelmed. What is a guy that is pushing 27 to do?

“I’ll admit it,” he said. “I’m not a technical genius when it comes to jumps. I’ve done what I needed to do to get to the top during my prime days. I accomplished that. For me to try to compete with the others, adding a quad flip, a quad Lutz, I don’t enjoy that. At the end of the day, I’m skating because I’ve continued to push myself into the 2018 Games, my third Games, because I want to enjoy it.”

At Skate Canada, Chan said he’s dropping the quad Salchow from both his short and long programs – for now. He’ll do only a quad toe loop in the short. And two quad toe loops and two triple Axels in the long. Not two quads in the short, and not three in the long. He intends to bring the quad Salchow back for later events. But for right now, he just needed not to do them.

“My strategy is to focus on the quality of the program,” Chan said. “It’s more what I want to do and what I love to do about skating: the actual performance.” His two new programs – “Dust in the Wind” and “Hallelujah,” are meaningful to him, easily the most meaningful, soulful programs he’s ever done, he said. It’s a meaningful season to him, too, because it will be his swan song.

Chan said that whenever his mind rolled around to the thought of how he would feel standing on the ice with the prospect of some heavy duty elements to face, his confidence to attack vanished. He felt fear. “So I’ve decided I would stick to my old guns and my old tricks and do what I can do at the very best,” he said. And let the chips fall where they may.

The thing is, Chan’s motivation this year is to enjoy the process and the Games. He feels this new strategy will make him feel that he can accomplish the most out of every performance this year. “I want to perform with a feeling of complete control of my situation,” he said. He’s thinking about his own personal enjoyment, performing what is still a very difficult routine.

It’s not a crazy idea. Witness Hanyu at the Autumn Classic a month ago. He shelved the quad loop for the event to prevent a potential knee problem and guess what happened? He set a world record of 112.72 without it. Hanyu is one person who can pull off this sort of miracle, because he can wrack up such huge GOE points and component points, too, especially if you do a routine with perfection – which Hanyu did that day.

And Chan has that same gift.

Hanyu did not repeat his stunning short program in Moscow on Friday. He added the quad loop back in this time, but he underrotated it. Minus GOE across. His triple Axel was HUGE (+3s all across) but then he fell on a quad toe loop – triple toe loop combo in the second half. Lots of minus GOE and a point deduction for the fall. He still emerged with highest component marks (46.61) (although not that much more than Russian Mikhail Kolyada, who flipped out of his quad combo. Kolyada’s component marks ranged from 7.00 from one judge to 9.50 from another). Hanyu still received high GOEs in his level-four step sequence, and mostly +2s on both spins, one a level three, the other a level four. It all adds up.

Hanyu finished second in the short program with 94.85 points, 22.87 points behind that magical routine he did in Montreal. That 94.85 points would be a great mark for just about anybody else. But the Olympics is not all about just being great. There’s not much room at the top.

Chen caught Hanyu in a weak moment, but Chen has stepped up the magic markedly this year, serious about improving all of his question marks from last year. In other words, his component marks. He turned to Shae-Lynn Bourne for his short-program choreography and displayed an explosion of body movement. He’s no longer just some kid with quads. He now looks like a powerful contender. His components were about four points behind that of Hanyu. And he’s 17.

He’s not making small steps this year. He’s making giant ones. He finished the short program with 100.54 points, breaking that magical barrier. He topped that last year at Four Continents (103.12), but this is early season. He knows there is lots of work to do. This is his first Olympic season.

Chen still doesn’t maximize his GOEs in the way that a Hanyu or a Chan can. But it’s early days and it will be fascinating to watch how he grows.

Chan’s top short program score is 102.13, set at the world championships last March in Helsinki, when he was third at that portion of the event.

All fall, the prospect of riding that crazy roller coaster of quads had nagged at Chan. And then one Thursday, not so long ago, he tackled a run-through of his short program, with a list of elements such as this: quadruple toe loop, quad Salchow and triple Axel.

“I fell on the toe,” Chan said. “I kept myself in the right mindset to do the quad Sal and I went up and I rotated it and I fell again. Then I went up into the triple Axel and fell on the triple Axel. At that point, I  kind of threw my hands up in the air. At that point, I didn’t even want to complete the footwork sequence, which I love personally. It’s my favourite part of the program. But because of the mistakes on the jumps, I had no desire to keep going.”

He still has his tour de force of a jump sequence: the triple Axel – half loop – triple Salchow, which he says offers a better balance of risk and reward. It gives him headaches, sometimes. But it can work and it’s “empowering,” he said. It leads into his choreographic step sequence. It just works very well. He likes it. It will become valuable to him.

Look how far he’s come.

He’s spent years thinking about Olympic gold, but he hardly thinks of it at all now, because, as we’ve noted before, he does not believe it will change his life. “My priority isn’t to think about gold as much as people love to talk about it,” he said. “It is exciting to think of the prospect of having a Canadian win gold, but my process as an athlete is completely different and my reality is at a different stage.”(A Canadian male singles skater has never won an Olympic gold medal.)

He does know that Canada’s chances at the Olympic team event are very good, and he’s putting his focus on that. “If there’s any kind of focus on podium finishes, it’s doing it as a team with a very good, strong Canadian team,” he said.

Next is winning his tenth Canadian title in Vancouver in January. Montgomery Wilson won nine Canadian men’s titles from 1929 to 1939 (Osborne Colson, former coach of Chan, broke up his undefeated string for a couple of years.) Chan had already surpassed Brian Orser’s mark of eight wins, and last year, he equalled Wilson’s record.  If Chan could break the record this season, it would put a tiny bow on his career and keep him in the record books, perhaps for a long time. And Chan is always at his best at the national championships.

Chan intends to put that quad Salchow back in later, depending on how his body feels. But for the time being, he needs to build his confidence to be able to perform consistently. The strategy is sound. And personal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patrick Chan: Dust in the Wind

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan is searching for perspective this Olympic season.

Patrick Chan has come a long way since he posed for this family photo.

 

Experience has taught him that he must pick his way thoughtfully about his tasks in a season that could be overwhelming and intense. He’s been there, done that. He knows he needs to duck mind boggles. And with the men’s event being what it is now (crazy quad after crazy quad), control can slip away so easily.

His music choices will be a daily reminder to let go of all of this. His short program to 1977 hit “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas is perfect. So is his tip of the hat to Canadian artist Leonard Cohen, who composed his free skate music: “Hallelujah.” It’s all very spiritual, really. Music that is quietly beautiful.

“I close my eyes, only for a moment

And the moment’s gone,” goes the Kansas song I know so well. Every word, actually.

“Same old song. Just a drop of water

In an endless sea.

All we do crumbles to the ground

Though we refuse to see.

Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.”

The title of the song is actually rather biblical. So is Hallelujah. If you know anything about Native American poetry, there is a verse that goes: “for all we are is dust in the wind.”

There is a story that Kansas songwriter Kerry Lindgrin had created the guitar line for the song with a simple finger exercise for learning fingerpicking. When his wife heard him fiddle with the notes, she thought it beautiful and encouraged him to write lyrics.

So he wrote music that was a departure from the usual Kansas fare. He didn’t think the band would be interested when he presented it to them. But when he finished playing it, he was met with a dead silence, until one of the band members said: “Kerry, where has this been?” And it became a memorable hit, rather melancholic and philosophical. And its melody gently cocoons you.

Chan and choreographer David Wilson found the music two years ago, and decided to save it for the Olympic season. There was no frantic searching. The music was already beneath their feet. “I love the story behind it,” Chan said. “It’s raw. No matter what kind of successes you have in your life, no matter what disasters happen in your life, we all have a full circle and we all turn into dust in the end. We go back to the ground where we came from. It’s all part of this earth and this universe.”

These thoughts lend perspective, he said. He’s taking it as his motto for the season. “Just doing it the way I want to and not thinking so much about the results of this year, while everyone else is going crazy about it,” he said. “I’m really working hard, not to put so much emphasis [on the season], but for my own mental health. “ The song takes the stress away from anything.

“The last two Olympics, I realized I really didn’t enjoy them,” Chan said. “I was just so caught up with ‘Go win the gold for everyone,’ ‘Beat everyone,’ It’s not about that. I think it’s a higher intellectual learning experience for me going to a third Olympic Games.”

He knows that even if he were not to win Olympic gold, he would be the same Patrick Chan that loves to surfboard and take his mountain bike up a steep path. If he were to win gold, he knows that would not change him, either.

“Hallelujah” was written in 1984 by Cohen, who couldn’t convince his record producers to even use it at first. Chan doesn’t at all like Cohen’s own version, sung with his gravelly voice and sounding like a dirge. “It’s not skateable, I think,” he said. “But I think despite the piece not being compatible to skating, I think it’s made a mark in the musical industry. I hope my skating will, too.”

But Jeff Buckley, with his haunting eyes, delivered one of the most acclaimed versions of the song before he died prematurely. And Chan feels this one gives him what he needs to create beautiful music on ice. Buckley’s version goes to the bone. It’s more sorrowful. It mixes beauty with pain.

Cohen’s version hit Billboard’s Top 100 for the first time after his death almost a year ago. In 2007 a group of 50 songwriters listed “Hallelujah” as one of the all-time top 10 greatest hits. More than 300 others have used the music. Many think Buckley’s version is as perfect as you can get. John Legend calls it “one of the most beautiful pieces of recorded music I’ve ever heard.”

“Some people like my skating. Some people don’t,” Chan said candidly. “And so it’s the same thing with this piece. We found the right version. I think it still emotes the same feeling and the same emotion and idea to the audience.”

All of this music relates to Chan’s plans to keep his goals in sight as youngsters are exploding with quads around him. Chan’s plan this year is to do two quads in the short program: a quad toe loop and a quad Salchow. He says his quad Salchow has improved over the summer.

He’s been flirting with a quad flip, but don’t expect it to be part of his routines this year. “I’m not really pushing myself overly hard to do a quad flip,” he said. “Honestly, I think it’s more to ease a bit of the pressure off the Sal. I know the Sal is a lot more realistic than the flip and it makes less of a burden.”

His long program plan is to go with what he had last year. Three quads: two quad toe loops and a quad Salchow.

“The question is now in the long, if you do two quads and two Sals, you lose the second [triple] Axel,” he said. “That’s why everyone does three different kinds of quads, in order to keep the second Axel. I don’t know if that’s in my future, because that’s pretty outrageous for me to do. I don’t know physically if I can do it at the moment. I definitely can’t at the moment. It’s something that would be a building process.” So for now, he’s focusing on doing two quads in the short, and allowing himself to come to the long with a more relaxed state of mind.

Happy days with choreographer Jeff Buttle

 

Chan feels like he’s coming into the season with nothing to lose. He’s already established himself. He knows there is always the temptation to try to do more at a competition, when energies all around him and inside him are firing. “It does influence you and it does become hard to stay focused,” he said. “I don’t need to do more than I normally do, as much as my body is having all this energy and I want to do more. It will work against me. So I’m really trying to have a personal dialogue in these situations.”

He will let fly this year, the way he can. He has his feet and skating ability to carry him. He’ll do what he can do. “I’m still a human being and normal person,” he said. “Why put emphasis on something that makes such little difference in your life?”

It’s all about perspective.

Jason Brown: bouncing back

If Jason Brown ever found himself in the Hundred Acre Wood, he would be Tigger, hopping and bopping, swinging his arms around everybody with glee, smiling until tomorrow.

“Tiggers are wonderful things,” the song goes. “Their tops are made out of rubber. Their bottoms are made out of springs.”

The young American is irrepressibly positive, despite living in the shadow of the Giant Quad, of which he’s landed few. Three years ago, a video of him skating to “Riverdance” at the 2014 U.S. championships went viral, attracting something like four million viewers.  It wasn’t the jump content that captured hearts. It was the Jason Brown mystique: beautiful skating, with expression, with skating skills. The kind that lives in the memory.

See? We still remember his “Riverdance.”

Brown has always been playing catch-up with the difficult jumps. He was injury-free until the past two seasons, when he set out to make up the jump deficit. Still, he won’t blame his back injury from a year ago that caused him to miss the U.S. championships and thusly, the worlds, too, and a stress fracture in his right fibula, his landing foot last December.

This time, he didn’t dare miss U.S. nationals, since a petition to go to worlds last year didn’t pass muster. So he competed in January. And February. With watered-down content and certainly no quads in sight, he skated. And remarkably at nationals finished third to youngsters Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, and by the grace of god – Zhou went to junior worlds and won it instead with wicked quad content – made it to the world championships in Helsinki next week.

Brown won’t blame his injuries on the quad pursuit. Although it may be part of it, he thinks it’s just because male skaters at a certain age are going through a growth spurt, and that males are just figuring out their bodies and what the limits are.

“When you’re young,” said the 22-year-old youngster, “…and being young in the sport, you’re kind of a whippersnapper, able to do these things without even thinking about it. Your body is just quick and it fires fast and you’re short and as you grow up and mature, things start to change.”

Somehow the description of “whippersnapper” fits him. The word seems all Tiggerish. But he’s past it now, he says. His injuries have taught him how much he can push the limit and when he should pull back.

Before his stress fracture flared up, he said he had been landing quad Salchows and quad toes. And he’s going to press on in the future. Going to go for more quads in the future? he is asked.

“One hundred per cent!” Brown cries in that bouncy way of his. “One hundred per cent!”

He’d like to also work on a quad flip. He’s constantly working on quads, he says, although he said his task is to find the balance between pushing his technical limits, staying injury free and doing only what he can manage. No sense putting four quads in a program, if it only falls apart under the stress of competition.

But here’s the rub. He’s been injured. He was wearing a special boot for support on his right foot and took it off only a week and a half before he left for Four Continents, where he finished sixth without a quad. His leg still felt weak. He was still taping it up to compete. But he has his strength back now. The height of his jumps is better, he is hustling across the ice at greater speed.

The quad toe loop is going well, he says. Elements will return. He’s had five weeks since Four Continents (finished sixth without a quad) to get his quad toe loop back in formation. He intends to put a quad in the short and a quad in the long. Mind you, he’ll have to see how they go in practice.

“It’s all about putting together a program that you feel the most confident about and to put those clean skates out there,” he said. “The main goal is to do what I can do and do it in the most competent manner.”

So no, he’s no Nathan Chen on the quad question. But if Tigger bounces recklessly to and fro with exuberance, on the ice, Brown is exquisite. He skates on big curves, the way skating was born. He uses his feet. He has transitions. He does crazy things, like a hydroblading move low to the ice, which then explodes into a lofty split jump. He gets top component marks, as well he should. Brown may be five years older than Chen, but he’s a whippersnapper in other ways. Both of his routines this season are things of beauty.

“The technical side can only draw people in so far,” he said. “Riverdance” was special and what it represents is what he hopes he can bring to the sport.

He’ll work hard to improve his technical content because he has to. But he won’t ever lose the other side, “never losing what made me fall in love with the sport in the first place,” he said. “I love it because I can perform, because I can draw people in, because I can connect with an audience.”

He faces the same conundrum that Patrick Chan – he of the beautiful edges and scary speed – does.  “I don’t care what anybody says, but what I know for sure from my experience so far since my comeback, when it comes to adding more quads…the skating transitions, the skating skills do get sacrificed, 100 per cent,” Chan said. “I guarantee. Now does that make me shy away from pushing myself technically? No, not at all. I think I have to go in the direction that the sport is going in, which is dictated by the top men’s skaters. All I can do is follow the lead.

“All I know is all I can control is maybe being able to combine the difficulty of the quads with really great transitions and skating skills. And that may be my edge above the other men. That’s not for me to decide. All I can do is skate the way I’ve always skated and then add additional quads as I go along, to my capabilities.”

So Chan and young Tigger are treading the same path. And if Brown were ever to get lost in the Hundred Acre Wood, I think I would open the door of my shack to let this cat curl up around the hearth. Because skaters like Chan and Brown must be cherished somehow.

 

 

 

Patrick Chan’s new plan of attack

It’s as if Patrick Chan is sweating his way through a nightmare. Just as he is about to grasp the golden ring, it slips out of his reach. He’s running as fast as he can but it feels like slow motion, as his opponents pull away. We know how it feels, when the bottom suddenly falls out of a dream.

He says that feeling was most true last season, when he made his comeback after a couple of years of doing shows and was taken aback by the new crazy quad world. He had thought that Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu had been hitting the limits of men’s skaters at the Sochi Games. How wrong he was. Hanyu, with his little hips, and inherent ability to rotate like a top, was only starting to push it. And he pushed it more while Chan was gone.

Now Chan feels as if he’s catching up, sort of. He’s had to. He originally never dreamed that he would be including a quad Salchow in a program, but the headlong race to the quad in the men’s event has driven Chan to a new level. However, even with the extra quad, he’s going to have to skate clean short and long programs to make a dent on his competitors,  because he still falls short of the technical arsenal of the others. Although Chan has the best skating skills in the world, it’s the quads that plop the biggest points into the basket.

So at Four Continents last month, Chan found himself watching the top three skaters of the long program while sitting in the green room – that place where the ISU puts them so television cameras can record them squirming – and it changed his strategy for the world championships in Helsinki, Finland next week.

“It was mind-blowing, what these guys were doing, technically,” he said.

It was also interesting for him, just to watch them skate. He never had. He’d always been in the lineup, perhaps after some of the top three. He had never watched their programs from beginning to end, all three of them: Hanyu, Nathan Chen, Shoma Uno.

“It was great to see,” he said. But what he saw was that he was “at a great disadvantage technically.”

Winner Nathan Chen – with whom Chan trained briefly at the beginning of the season – squashed his opposition with five quads and a stunning final score of 307.46, almost 40 points more than Chan. Hanyu had stumbled in the short program but felt a moment of triumph after his long and a frothy mark of 303.71. But he skated before Chen and the wind went out of his sales when he saw the unassuming, matter-of-fact American kid lay it down. He doesn’t like to lose. At all. Current Japanese champion Shoma Uno fell twice and dropped to third with 288.05, still about 20 points more than Chan.

“It was eye-opening,” said Chan, who fell on two of his three quads in the long. Chan finished fourth in the free, fourth overall. On the outside, looking in. Believe it or not, Chan is the reigning Olympic silver medalist from 2014. Hanyu had skated badly, leaving the door wide open. Chan had skated worse.

Yes, Chan felt frustrated about this most recent test. The results made him want to hold a meeting with his coaches, immediately, on the spot, to figure out how to combat what happened. Eventually they did meet, and the week after Four Continents, Chan flipped around some of the elements in his long program, and changed up some combination passes to improve his chances for next week.

Chan keeps his opening tour-de-force, the quadruple toe loop – triple toe loop, that he enters with the speed and drama of a freight train. The quadruple Salchow becomes the second jump now instead of the third. This, his newest jump, which has evaded him this season in many competitions (as it did at Four Continents) switches places with the triple Axel.

The triple Axel, now third in the parade, gets a facelift because it will become a jump series: a triple Axel – loop – triple Salchow. It had been a jump combination with a triple toe loop in the second half of the program.

Now, Chan will turn a lonely triple Lutz late in the routine into a triple Lutz – double toe loop  combination (now his second-last jump), great for second-half points. There will be a sole triple Axel and a quad toe loop in the second half, too. Finally, there will be a triple flip and a tripe loop.

“We gave it [the quad Salchow] as many chances as we could to see how consistent the layout was,” Chan said. “But it didn’t’ seem consistent enough. We thought it was logical to try a different order.”

“And I decided that I’ve lost out on quite a few points just on not having completed enough combinations,” he said. “I didn’t fill my combination bracket.”

The new arrangement will give Chan slightly higher point totals, but that wasn’t really the full intent of the change. “It was more just to allow myself a new approach and maybe the possibility of having the jumps become more successful” in the heat of competition, he said.

Couldn’t he really be doing something else with his time, instead of chasing something that younger skaters are increasingly capable of? He’s a bright guy. He doesn’t need this craziness.

“We are at a point now where it’s crazy,” he said. But he admits, it’s true. It’s hitting the nail on the head to say he could be opening up a rink in Vancouver to teach skaters or to become part of the finance world, or to do anything. Chan said he’s had many more options for his future opening up to him in the months leading up to the Pyeongchang Olympics than he did before Sochi.

But hope springs eternal. The battle doesn’t halt Chan. It spurs him on. His new sports psychologist has set things in perspective. “It does get to a point where it’s frustrating, where I’m running as fast as I can, but they are just creeping away from me,” he said. “It doesn’t help seeing other people have success. Or to be in the spot that I used to be in.”

So Chan has had to separate the raw emotions of the moment, from the logical thought of tackling the fight at hand. He can’t worry about those other guys. He got his plan of attack for the world championships.

He’s miles ahead of where he was at his first world championship back – at Boston a year ago. He has more confidence and a tougher list of elements. “Last year, I think there was always a lingering doubt that I was behind the eight ball, compared to the other guys,” he said. Coach Marina Zoueva said last year her most important task was to instill confidence in him.

It’s all been worth it, he says. He’s surprised himself at what he has been able to do. Where this will all take him, we shall see next week. Next year? Perhaps two quads in the short program. He can always dream (or plan), can’t he?

The quad fest at Four Continents

Is Nathan Chen for real? Has he been bundled onto earth somehow by a shiny space ship bearing gifts? Is he the lottery ticket somebody lost, then pulled triumphantly out of a drawer?  Is this all a fairy tale?

Injured after last year’s U.S. nationals, Chen was competing at only his second major international event (Grand Prix Final last December, when he took the silver medal behind Hanyu, was his first), at the Four Continents championships, the Olympic test event in Korea this past week. He’s only 17. A little more than a year ago, Chen competed on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. He won the Junior Grand Prix Final, a little spark of greatness.

Yet he’s seized the pre-Olympic buzz by the throat. And after winning on the weekend in an epic battle with defending Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, he’ll have the best of memories to take back with him to Pyeongchang a year from now. The rest are all now racing to catch up. And believe me, they will be racing.

The Four Continents promised to be the quad contest beyond all quad contests, with Boyang Jin of China and the American Chen offering up five quads – and Hanyu for the first time trying five – while Shoma Uno of Japan and Kevin Reynolds of Canada attempted four. None were perfect. The risk is beyond the pale.

Just how did Chen and his quiet confidence win his gold medal?

He didn’t actually win the long program. Hanyu did. But Chen put distance between them by winning the short program, while Hanyu doubled a quad Salchow and landed third, 6.08 points behind. It’s a classic case of how important the short program can be. You can’t load it up with everything you can do, but if you miss something, you’re at a disadvantage.

While Hanyu defeated Chen by 2.33 points in the free, it wasn’t enough for gold. Chen still had enough space left to win by 3.75 points.

Hanyu defeated Chen in the free on the strength of his component mark, because Chen actually won the technical mark: 115.48 to Hanyu’s 112.33.

Hanyu won the component mark with 94.34 points, while Patrick Chan was second in this category with 92.58, Uno third with 91.08 and Chen fourth with 88.86, just ahead of the divine Jason Brown at 85.72. Alas, Brown, injured earlier this season, had to dump an uncertain quad from his repertoire. Still, with excellent skating, Brown finished sixth in the free and sixth overall.

Chen also had to face having to skate last, waiting 40 minutes after the warmup to go out onto the ice – and when he did go, the crowd rained down numerous sorts of Pooh things in celebration of a skate Hanyu would have deemed gold worthy on any other day. Still, Chen shrugged it off. Took it like a pro.

“Skating after Yuzu is obviously kind of exciting, so it’s great to be able to skate after that,” he said. “With the whole Winnie the Pooh situation, it’s something that I can’t change. But it was something that I was expecting. I just waited until everything was cleared, got on the ice and did everything I needed to do. I had plenty of time to do what I needed to do, so it wasn’t too much of a struggle for me.” He doesn’t seem to sweat the small stuff. Others can turn that into big stuff.

Let’s compare quad to quad, because who doesn’t want to do that in such a contest?

Of Hanyu’s five quads, he landed the quad loop, (a money maker, earning him 2.14 bonus points for 14.14 points), a quad Salchow (11.93 with bonus), he doubled a quad Salchow in combination with a single loop (ouch, only 1.92 points), a quad toe (13.19)  and finally late in the game, a quad toe –double toe (for 13.90 points, and he didn’t maximize his GOE, with a lot of +1s.)

In fact, Hanyu didn’t earn as many high GOE points as usual, and there were no marks at all of 10.00 for components.

The triple Axel is one of his best jumps and he racked up 16.51 points for a triple-triple combo, and a solo triple Axel worth 11.78. We’ve seen him do a triple Axel – loop – triple Salchow in the past – a real point getter – but it wasn’t in this routine, obviously dropped for the fifth quad.

All in all, Hanyu earned 55.08 points for his quad attempts.

Chen opened up with an astonishingly brilliant and difficult quad Lutz – triple toe loop, which earned him a whopping 20.33 points, followed it up with a very nice quad flip (14.73 points), a common old quad toe loop (9.79, because he turned out of it), a quad toe loop – double toe loop (12.03, with the quad landed a little forward) and a quad Salchow (12.84).

Chen landed more quads than triples. (So did Hanyu). But two of Chen’s four triples were Axels, one in combination with a couple of double toe loops. He turned after both triple Axels. Yes, there were bobbles throughout the routine. He managed huge GOEs only after his opening quad combination, his quad flip and his straightline footwork, which was level four.

His quad pointage: 69.72.

Hanyu did five jumps after the half-way mark and three of them were to be quads. This is an onslaught of point-maximizing, if it all works out. Chen did four, with only one a quad. (Let’s give him a break: he’s only 17 and relatively new at this!)

As for Shoma Uno, the bronze medalist, who is actually the Japanese champion because Hanyu missed the event because of flu (extra point to be made, Hanyu hadn’t competed in two months.) also did five jumps in the second half, two of them quads.

He opened up with his new jump, a triple loop (lots of bonus marks for this one at 14.43), a quad flip (14.59), a quad toe loop, which he turned out of, not allowing him to do a double toe at the end (10.79) and a quad toe – double toe loop, because he bravely turned a solo jump into a combo (for 14.05). He fell on both of his triple Axel combinations, losing huge points. And both of them had been in the second half.

Uno’s quad count?  53.86 points.

Boyang Jin? He’s the one that started the quad rush, having unleashed four at the Grand Prix Final and at the world championships last year. But rarely does he get GOEs higher than +1 for anything he does.

The free program in Pyengchang was riddled with problems. Jin landed only one of his five quads cleanly. His opening quad Lutz – triple toe loop was okay, but the Lutz was landed with a break in the waist (18.33); he stepped out of a quad Salchow (8.96); he underrotated and fell on a quad loop (4.40); he fell on a quad toe loop (7.33); and he landed a quad toe loop – double toe loop, but had a hand down on the quad. (11.56). All in all, the big risks he took got him a quad count of only 50.58. If he made mistakes, they were on his quads. Still, he has the third highest technical points, over Uno.

The base value of Jin’s jumps was a whopping 106.18, just shy of Nathan Chen, but he couldn’t maximize them. Jin’s component score was 77.44, well behind that of Hanyu. Jin ended up fifth in the free, and sixth overall, just nipped by Patrick Chan by .47 points.

Chan, fourth with a free skate score of 179.52, well below his best, and a final score of 267.98, attempted three quads but fell on two: his new quad Salchow and the quad toe loop. He did land his opening quad toe loop – triple toe loop to a huge roar from the crowd. It earned him a lofty 17.17 points. His triple Axel that followed – a jump that used to be his nemesis – flew, getting five +3s for 11.07. He underroated the quad Salchow, and got chump change for his two flawed quads. He also stepped out of a triple Lutz, meant to be a big combo. Thinking on his feet, he tacked the end part of that combo onto a triple flip that followed.

He says he needs more snap off the ice into his jumps, and he’ll work on it.

Kevin Reynolds attempted four quads, but tripled the first one, a quad Salchow; underrotated and fell on the quad toe, did land a quad Salchow, but it was underrotated, and he also underrotated the second quad toe. He was assessed one fall. But the miscues (four underrotations) riddled his technical mark. He was 12th in the free and 12th overall.

Reynolds said it was tough mentally to overcome his rough opening, and then with each mistake, he got bogged down further. “You lose your energy and your focus,” he said. He’ll regroup for the world championships on his routine that is “a minefield of technical difficulty that we have to do in the free program now.”

His teammate, Nam Nguyen, who finished behind him at the Canadian championship, ended up eighth overall, with three quads planned. He landed the first one, a quad toe loop, but undrerotated and fell on a quad Salchow. He did land an ambitious quad Salchow – double toe loop – double loop in the second half, good for 15.25 points. Nguyen had the fifth highest technical points (92.57) of the free skate, with much lower component marks (72.52). He was seventh in the free skate, with season’s bests in the free and the total score.

“It’s been a while to see that SB next to my score,” he said, after a season in which he changed coaches twice. “It’s special to me, although it’s not very high compared to the other skaters.” He won’t be going to the world championships, but said he’s been working on a quad flip and “it’s getting there.”

Chen hadn’t intended to do five quads in the free at all this year. He’d done it at U.S. nationals because things had been going so well during the skate. And so he kept it up for Four Continents. “The amount of quads I put into a program in a particular season is relative to how my body is adapting to training, how it’s adapting to competition and what the other skaters are doing,” he said. He said Hanyu pushed him, not only with jumps, but with artistry, too.

“He really kind of started that huge quad craze when we were younger,” he said. “We were all struggling to get our triples and do triple-triples and he was out there doing four quads in a long. I think that really motivated all of us junior skaters to start working on these quads and putting them into the programs. It’s really showing up now that we are senior skaters.”

In other words, Hanyu has started something that will come back to haunt him, much like Patrick Chan did, after starting the trend back to quads following the 2010 Olympics, won without a quad. Now he’s chasing younger skaters, too.

At podium time, Hanyu admitted he felt envious of Chen. But with what the American had accomplished, Hanyu said: “I felt like I want to congratulate him from the bottom of my heart.”

Despite all the accolades he’s earned, this is Hanyu’s third silver medal at Four Continents.

“It’s hard to predict what is going to happen between now and the Olympics,” Hanyu said. “You never know who is going to do another quad.” As we have seen during the past year, things can change quickly. New faces could bound right up the ladder.

And it’s not stopping. Over the weekend, and overshadowed by the Four Continents, was the Bavarian Open in Germany. Canada’s little gem, Stephen Gogolev won an advanced novice competition by landing the second quad Salchow of his life. And he’s 12 years old.

And just for fun, Jason Brown:

Chan’s game plan in the face of all quads

About 3 ½ months ago, at Skate Canada International, Patrick Chan felt the heaviness in his legs during the long program and wondered why.

Yes, he won the gold medal at Skate Canada last fall by almost four points over Yuzuru Hanyu, but it hadn’t gone as well as hoped in the free skate for the three-time world champion from Canada, who is still putting his puzzle together before Pyeongchang.

Hanyu had defeated Chan in the free skate by about seven points, even with a fall on a quad loop and having doubled a quad Salchow. But Chan fell on his new quad Salchow, then doubled some jumps at the end of his long program, as his legs dragged him away from winning that segment. Chan’s components saved him that day. He out-footed Hanyu by about three points for the artistic side. Hanyu defeated him in the free by 10 points.

Chan spoke the next day to Elvis Stojko about the heavy feeling in his legs, and Stojko gave him advice on conserving NO energy while training, so that when stresses of big competitions befell him, he’d have something in reserve.

But Chan also began to consider something else: a sports psychologist. Even though he is 26 years old, has competed at two Olympics and seven world championships and is a nine-time Canadian champion, he’s never had one.

After a practice at Skate Canada, his coach Marina Zoueva asked him if he knew any breathing exercises to combat the tightness he felt in his upper body that seemed to drain the strength from his core. He didn’t. And then he began to think that he should. “It doesn’t hurt to try everything,” he said. “I don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”

Judy Goss, Skate Canada’s go-to sport psychologist, recommended that Chan see Scott Goldman at the University of Michigan, only a 20-minute drive from the rink at which he trains. Goldman is a director of high performance psychology at the university, with a history of athletic enhancement, and confidence building. All good stuff for Chan.

Chan met with Goldman just before the Canadian championships and had great opportunities to try out some tools, especially since he had to deal with long waits to compete: he always skated last. His calm coach Oleg Epstein told Chan he had 40 minutes before he was to skate after he came off the warmup. Chan didn’t hurry to take off his skates. Then he found a table, climbed aboard and began some breathing exercises, accompanied by some visualization. There is no exact science to this, no defined formula to stave off unproductive thoughts.

Mind you, it wasn’t an extremely high pressure situation at the event in Ottawa, because Chan led by 10 points going into the free skate. And he knew there wasn’t a herd of competitors about to unleash a string of quads at him, other than Canada’s Quad King, Kevin Reynolds, who attempted four quads in the free.

But there will be at the upcoming Four Continents championships in Pyeongchang, which serves as a test event for the 2018 Winter Games. Quads will be flying. More than anybody has ever seen.

He’ll have to face his young friend, Nathan Chen, who dazzled a nation (the world too) with his spectacular free skate at the U.S. championships where he landed five deft quads. The sky seems the limit.

And just last week, came word from China that Jin Boyang plans to do five quads, too, in his free skate, up from the four he used to win the world bronze medal last March in Boston. He aims to blitz the rink with a quad Lutz – triple toe loop, a quad Salchow, a quad loop, a quad toe loop and a quad toe loop – double toe loop.

Chen has a slightly different repertoire. He doesn’t do the quad loop, but he does do the quad flip, which is worth more points. (Quad loop is worth a base mark of 12 points, a quad flip a trickle more at 12.3. The quad Lutz? Now there’s a jump. It wasn’t so long ago that Chan didn’t think it possible. It’s worth 13.6 points. And now several skaters are doing it. Junior skaters are training it. Hey, even 12-year-old Stephen Gogolev, Canada’s new junior champion, has tried them.)

Chan has re-entered a crazy world indeed, rotations ablur. Now in his second year of a comeback, he’s had to face a growing list of competitors who do more and more difficult quads. As scintillating as his win was at the Canadian championships (he did land only two quads in the free, and a third turned into a triple toe loop), he seemed to be going in the right direction. And then Chen unleashed his fireworks at the U.S. championships a day later.

It’s a crazy exercise to compare Chan’s marks with Chen’s at two national championships, not judged independently by international judges. But perhaps they tell a story.

Chen’s free skate score was 212.08. Chan wasn’t all that far behind him with 205.36, only about seven points. Chan could have almost closed the gap if he had landed a quad toe loop instead of a triple.And with some bonus points, he could have edged ahead.

Without a doubt, Chen’s element score outpaced that of his northern neighbour, Chan. While Chen earned 121.08, Chan got 106.88. Chan also got as close as he did by maximizing his grade of execution marks. Judges gave him plenty of +2s and +3s as bonus points. Yes, Chen was getting some +3s, too, but many more +1s.

As for the component mark, Chan rules this category and he did that week, too. Canadian judges gave him 98.48 points. Chen got 91.00. While Chen didn’t crack 10, Chan got 22 marks of 10.

Okay, okay, lest there’s an uprising over the idea that Canadian judges may have been heaping rewards on Chan so that he could go off to the international wars with their backing, let’s look at the Grand Prix Final. It’s not so easy to compare different competitions, because Chan didn’t skate his best in Marseille, and Chen won the free skate over more seasoned competitors, including Hanyu and Javier Fernandez, both world champions.

But in Marseille, international judges were a little more reluctant to dish out high GOEs to Chen, almost three points less. And his component marks were 84.42  in Marseille, 6.58 points lower than what he earned at U.S. nationals.  Still, there’s always the argument that he had progressed by the U.S. championships, too.

Chan fell four times at the Grand Prix Final free skate, so obviously he had improved by the Canadian championships.

So perhaps there’s hope for Chan, if he gets his mental hamsters under control. And if he delivers. Still, it’s most important that he delivers a year from now. And it’s important that he has included the quad Salchow this year. He says the next step is to put two quads in the short, which could go a long way to having him reach his goals.

At the beginning of the year, Chan said he saw himself as a skater who could fall into third, fourth or fifth position, not first, or maybe even second.  “And that’s okay,” he said. “It helps me to focus on what I have to do and not think about : ‘Oh I’m head to head with Yuzuru or I’m head to head against Javi and I’ve got to do as many quads as they are.’” Now he has a few more names to add.

Where is it all going to go? What is the limit? “We don’t know,” Chan said. “We’re going to keep pushing the boundary until something has to give. Either you will have skaters that will not last very long due to injury or maybe the presentation side of the sport gets affected. I leave it up to everyone.

“I’ve said it over and over again: the skating is more important. It’s cool to see the other guys pushing the boundaries. It’s amazing to see them rotate these jumps. I’m in awe. I’m going to stick to my plan. I’m not going to change it, according to that. But it’s going to be interesting to sit back and see where it does top out and where the limit is.”

How much does artistry suffer when a program has four or five quads? “I see a lot of two-foot skating, which is not bad,” Chan said. “It means they are centred. They are balanced. Whereas I feel like I ebb and flow from one leg to another. I transfer my weight from one to another.”

It also makes it more difficult to maintain balance. It creates a lot of flow in Chan’s skating, but he sometimes gets off balance and has to set himself up for a jump. There are pros and cons. “It depends on how a judge interprets that,” Chan said.

Chen almost seems to be alone in delivering endless amounts of quads without a lot of falls. Everybody else has been slip-sliding this year at one moment or another. Hanyu has taken lots of falls. Stojko, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, can see how it’s all building to the 2018 Games.

He told Chan, since everyone is now working on quads, that he has one season only to get this right. He must add the quads now. “I told him, you are going to make mistakes, bro,” Stojko said. “You may have to give up competition and wins for it. Hanyu did. The last couple of years, he tried quads and fell. How many performances have you seen him just splat everywhere? And then all of a sudden, last year he does that almost perfect program. He’s starting to do it.

“Nathan Chen, same thing. A young kid coming up, they are going to splat all over. People only see that one performance and say quads shouldn’t be in. But you don’t see the big picture of what they’re doing. They’re trying to learn how to do these things under pressure in competition. You’re going to make mistakes before it becomes perfect.”

Still, don’t expect Chan to add some quad loops or flip or Lutzes into his repertoire in the next year. Epstein thinks he can learn another one. Chan doesn’t think it’s necessary.

Firstly, it’s pointless to set ridiculous goals that only serve to discourage you and then you get mentally stuck and achieve nothing, Chan said. Secondly, Chan wants to remain healthy.

“Nathan and Shoma [Uno] are going to be 26 and 28 at the end of their career and not be able to ever do any other sports. They are going to be so banged up,” Chan said.

Chan values his post-career activities. He wants to be able to go to the back country and ski. He wants to go rock climbing, sky diving too.

The first thing he‘s going to do when he’s finished is buy himself a pair of powder skis and find a mountain to climb. For now, he’s climbing another one.

To do it, he’s reading “The Rise of Superman,” a book that details a rather magical mental state allowing one to accomplish the impossible, or at least the difficult. It’s called flow. Or being in the zone, when time seems to stand still.

The psychologist is “a leap of faith,” Chan said. “I had to find a way to get myself not to focus on what all the other skaters are doing.”

The Four Continents will be an important test along the way.

Patrick Chan finding his feet for Halifax

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.