Patrick Chan announced earlier in May that he would make his debut for the 2016/17 pre-Olympic season in Espoo, competing at the local Challenger Series event, Finlandia Trophy. And here I am in Espoo, at the Metro Arena, in his company, right after the competition where he earned an overall second place. He came here with neither pressure, nor expectations, just to get used to the Finnish atmosphere, in a preview of what would be the environment of this season’s World Championships, hosted by Helsinki next March.
At the end of two not actually clean performances, but still a solid start for an early competition, Patrick looks relaxed and smiling, like someone who has found the key to serenity. There is a lot going on in his career right now, many changes and many challenges for the future – still, he genuinely enjoys his new life and seems ready to make the most of it.
by Melania Resnigo/Espoo
Patrick, this is the beginning of the second season after your comeback to competition… Can we just take a look at your last season? How was it like to be back, seeing it in retrospect, and did you expect it to be so difficult?
Patrick Chan: Last season was definitely challenging! There were a lot of things to get used to. The most challenging one was to get comfortable competing again. Honestly, it took me some time to get used to it again, and feel at ease in such a nervous environment, but, at the same time, I found it hard to handle my excitement to be finally back on track. Combining these two big source of opposite feelings was not easy.
Of course, I also needed to get my jumps back. It took time to realize that the men’s skating field had been changing so much. Nowadays, skaters are executing almost all types of quads (Lutz, Toe loop, Flip and Salchow), so I didn’t end the last season at my best, but I think all this process gave me bigger motivations for this year. The lesson learned is that I need to stop thinking about the results and stop focusing on being better than some other skaters. This is the wrong mentality, it doesn’t work for me – what suits me best is just to think to compete against myself.
The second lesson – it’s more like a goal actually, but I am really working on it – is to avoid making mistakes that I usually don’t do in practice, at competitions. When I was younger, I just went out on the ice and did my best without overthinking, and, since I was well trained, things went good. But now that I am older, I have to pay a lot more attention to how I feel and mostly about the technique; being relaxed, doing my jumps and performing the programs at my best. Many times I had people come out to me and say that my practice sessions looked really good, but then when competition time came, the performances proved not so good as they were at home. This is getting fixed. I think right now I have the best practice system of my whole career. I am very well organized both practically and mentally, every little detail has been studied and planned – now the challenge is to translate all this work into the competition, when the pressure reaches its highest peak. That’s the task.
I am looking for a new way of competing because, you know what, you have to change! I changed as a person, my body altered. I wrongly thought that I could come back and be the same person and skater I was before, competing in the same way I was used to when I was younger, but this is not the case. Now things are different, and I need to adapt to that. Also, the new environment I am training in, I think it’s a good place where to start fresh, and I am going to be a different skater this year.
Let’s talk about your new team. How is working with Marina Zueva, Oleg Epstein and Johnny Johns? What kind of work each one of them specifically does with you?
I moved to Canton to skate at the Arctic Edge Arena back in May, together with Kathy Johnson. I worked there only with her, taking lessons from nobody else. When Kathy left, I stayed in Canton because by then I had realized that I had found very good resources there with Marina, Oleg and Johnny: so they became my coaches.
Each of them gives me what I need right now. The three of them all have experiences with single skaters; Marina has a very good experience with figure skating champions and she perfectly knows how to exalt those common denominators needed in order to guide a champion on the right path. She taught me what I needed to do during competition, off-ice, during the warm-up and during practice sessions. She is always there for me through it all. She is good at keeping me calm, allowing me to get enough confidence so that while skating I can make the right decisions.
Oleg, for example, has experience coaching Evan Lysacek and Gracie Gold in Chicago – he is the number one coach in the technical field when it comes to jumps. He is so smart combining single skating skills exercises and pure skating exercises on the ice: these two different kinds of training, put together, translate into having a stronger jumping technique, preparation, take-off and landing. He is brilliant. He doesn’t focus on teaching me his own technique at all costs, but he instead picks from everyone, say Mishin’s school or Kulik’s one, for example. Oleg gives me all the information gathered from all skating schools, and if one specific method doesn’t work for me, even if just referred to a single element, we switch to another one, looking for what I need and what suits me best.
Johnny also is a technician, but he mainly works with videos. Nowadays, technology can help us so much! In this case, having videos helps me connecting what I feel while skating to what I see afterwards watching the tape: it’s like having a mirror. It helps a lot not only with the choreography, to check if a movement works well with me and if it’s on the music, but also when it comes to the technique. By doing so, you can notice mistakes almost instantly, and correct them immediately, before your body becomes familiar with the wrong movement.
You just debuted your new programs in Espoo. What can you say about them and especially about you working with your Canadian teammate, Eric Radford, who wrote the music for your long program?
The short program is actually not really new – it’s an old exhibition, modified to be a competitive short program. It’s on a Beatles medley. I performed it last year at Stars on Ice and I had great reviews, but the main reason why I kept it is that I love this music so much!
It reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents used to always listen to the Beatles, especially during road trips. This music works as a comfort zone for me while I am skating – having a music to connect to is so important for me, whether it’s funny or emotional, it’s the only companion during those long minutes on the ice. It allows me to relax, making me feel at home. And besides this, everyone loves the Beatles – even if you are not a fan, you start singing and moving along their songs. So it becomes easier to share the feelings that these songs wake up inside me both with the audience and the judges.
The long program is choreographed by David Wilson. We had so much fun creating this program, and it’s also so special because the music has been composed by my friend Eric. The idea started over the off-season, when we were invited to a sort of “End of the Season” party offered by Skate Canada with all the Canadian Team’s athletes; we were all in the hotel lobby, and there happened to be a grand piano. Eric, who always plays the piano anytime he sees one, started playing this melody, and once it filled the air I immediately closed my eyes and started picturing myself skating to it. At the time I was still looking for a piece of music to use for the long program; Kathy and I kept looking for melodies and songs, but till then we hadn’t been able to find anything good. This music was perfect! It was exactly what we were looking for.
That same evening I talked about it with Eric, who emailed me a couple of pieces a few days later and, after listening to them, I sent them all to Kathy Johnson and David Wilson; everyone loved them, so we decided to experiment it. The music piece is going to change during the season, it will evolve. This is what makes it extra special, Eric is always thinking about how it can be improved, so some instruments will be added, and he plans to create a more intense sense of depth. He is a figure skater, so he understands what kind of rhythm a piece of music needs to have to be a great long program.
Building your own program, do you check what other skaters do? Do you watch other skaters’ performances on videos?
I don’t really study the other skaters I am competing with, I don’t watch any video. During competitions, I just pay attention to the technical sheet, to see what jumps they are planning and where they are placed in order to get extra points. But I don’t plan my programs around that, I just need to know what others are doing to determine my strategy accordingly.
Luckily, I have very good skating skills and components, so I can be smart adding realistic jumps. This season I will add a quad Salchow, that hopefully will be more consistent at Worlds here in Finland than now, so I will have three quads in my long program as first step. I usually do two quads at the beginning, but as we said, strategizing a little, I have moved the second one in the second half of the program, together with another triple axel. Then once I will be successful at that, I will think about adding some other quads, but realistically this is this season’s plan.
You and Nathan Chen are now both working in Canton with Marina Zueva. He was the first US man to land four quads in a long program, claiming the bronze medal at 2016 US Nationals, and he won this competition in Espoo doing four different quads in his long program. How is having a training buddy after years, and also so technically strong?
Nathan is so very talented, so humble, and also a very helpful guy. He helps me technically and, on my part, I try to make him feel comfortable in our new training environment. For him, now it’s important to have a place where he can train quietly, have friends and have fun training, as it should be for everyone. We love what we do and we are extremely lucky to make of our passion a living and a lifestyle, so I just try to remind him this simply by talking to him and keeping the fun up goofing around!
Marina did a very good job with both of us; we came here well trained and with a plan, and she has the same approach and does the same work with both of us. She didn’t put us under any pressure coming to this competition, she just let us skate here giving us some guidance. Nathan and I we push each other daily, but when it comes to competition, we are not rivals, we just go on the ice and try to do our best. There is no pressure at home training with him.
I used to train alone and saw people doing quads only when going to competitions, and when that happened, I thought I was witnessing something special, but now I see him landing all kinds of quads everyday (Lutz, Toe loop, Flip and Salchow), so I am used to it, it’s just another jump to see for me. This is good for my training, it helps me to stay calm and relaxed, so that when it comes to my skating I don’t feel obliged to overdue to keep up with other skaters.
Back in Canton, Nathan and I do a lot of simulations, and this, I think, helps me a lot! Marina picks four or five skaters, and we act like during a competition. It takes two days a week: we start with the short program run-through on Thursday, and we go on Friday with the long programs. Sometimes there is even an audience, and this makes us feel positively uncomfortable, since it’s not our normal training schedule, it’s more like during competitions.
When we do run-throughs during practice, it’s easier: you take your time, you warm up very well, and when you feel good, you start, so to get the perfect situation. Simulation is not that comfortable: you have just five minutes of warm-up and then you have to clear the ice and then when it’s your turn you immediately enter and have to start the run-through. Waiting for our turn makes us all a lot more nervous, also excited, and we feel the pressure to be on the ice alone with people watching. This way, the body gets used to move in that uncomfortable situation, like during a real competition. It’s very important to stay focused on getting a feel of your body and the crucial is to try to control every part of it.
Many skaters are doing four quads in a program now, do you have the feeling that the artistic part of the men’s event is going to be missed?
I come from the generation of Jeffrey Buttle. We had the ability to move people, to connect with the audience. Now there is a new generation, the one belonging to skaters like Boyang Jin or Nathan Chen, who are just repeating in the Senior what they did at a Junior level; we know you are more focused on the technical aspect now. It’s simply the evolution, and you can’t stop it.
Maybe in the future people will realize that some artistic part is going to be missed, so they will make different judging systems, I don’t know. I think that we all have the same goals: to be complete skaters. I need to work on the jumping technique, and maybe the youngest ones need to work more on the other part. I think it’s challenging for everyone. For me to have so many talented younger skaters is inspiring.
What is your goal for this 2016/17 season?
My goal is definitely to be back here in Finland next March for Worlds with my three quads in my long program, and having fun skating in front of this great audience. Simply enjoying life.
FURTHER READING – Finlandia Trophy 2016