Ice Network

Grown-up Chan hits Paris streets in new shoes

Three-time reigning world champion finds positive spirit, independence
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Patrick Chan is happy again, which he discovered is necessary to his success. -Getty Images

In his early years, Patrick Chan won his first Grand Prix in Paris (in 2007). He is now back for the 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard, much to the pleasure of his numerous fans in France. The last time he was in the country, it was in Nice, where he won his second world gold medal and wore red tennis shoes. This year, he appeared in blue tennis shoes.

Chan agreed to discuss what has changed in his life since his last visit -- far more than just the color of his shoes, it appears.

Icenetwork: So, you are finally back in Paris?

Chan: Yes! As a Canadian skater, I always want to do Skate Canada, of course. I try to choose my second Grand Prix according to the schedule, which is never the same from one year to the next. I like to have a two-week gap between my two Grand Prix, so that I can come back home, relax, start concentrating again and preparing for the next competition. Paris was perfect in that respect this year.

Icenetwork: How do you feel in your programs now?

Chan: Very much at ease, I must say. I decided to keep my short program to Rachmaninoff from last year. I feel very comfortable with it, and I never feel bored skating to it.

As for the free skate, I decided to take the same theme as I skated to, back in 2008, to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. In 2008, I won my first Canadian gold medal, even beating Jeffrey Buttle. That was such a great year for me. At the time, I told myself that I would want to skate to that theme again one day. Every skater has a favorite musical piece. This one is mine. I thought this would be the ideal year for that.

At the beginning of the season, we thought we could use Vivaldi's music throughout, but I could not find enough emotion in it. I did not even feel to choreograph it at all, so I went back to listen to many other musical pieces and now I feel at ease.

Icenetwork: We have always seen your parents here in previous years. Have they made the trip?

Chan: No! My mom is on a trip and my dad is still working at home. It is the first time that I have been here without any of my parents. This was also a major change for me, when I moved from Colorado to Detroit. I decided to live on my own. I now cook my own dishes at night. It is very important at this stage of my career, I think.

During the Olympic Games in Vancouver, I was very dependent on other people. In Sochi, things will be completely different. Now I am able to listen to my body and figure out what it needs, so it is a big change, but it is for the better, I hope!

Icenetwork: There has been a lot of discussion about the weight of components in rankings. When we watch your feet, however, it is obvious that the work you are doing is fabulous. How can this become more understood by general audiences?

Chan: The best way really is to invite people to come watch skating live. Television is great, but it does not give justice to the work we do. You can't understand footwork, you can't feel the wind and the energy it takes unless you are in the rink itself. On television, you will criticize the judges and the marks they give far more easily. Once you can see skating live with your own eyes, you understand better.

As I was practicing the other day in Detroit, a hockey player came to me and told me, "What you do with your feet is incredible. I have never seen that sort of speed you have on the ice." That guy had never had any figure skating education, yet he noticed the quality of skating.

Icenetwork: You always credit your former coaches for the quality of your edges. How have you kept working on it since?

Chan: Thanks to Mr. [Osborne] Colson and my other previous coaches, I used to have a high aptitude for sure, with good gliding and quality of edges. At the same time, I was making some stupid mistakes and falls, simply because I did not have the complete mastery of my footwork. I used to get tired really early into my programs, and I did not feel efficient in my moves.

Icenetwork: Has this improved now?

Chan: Now it has, but we needed to work a lot on the rhythm of my feet and knees, and also on their synchronism with breathing. It is amazing how much the way you breathe in accordance with your body movements can affect the subtlety of your footwork. Actually, the flow and the quality of your skating are really dependent on the synchronism between your breathing and your knee-bending. In effect, you should inhale when you stretch and exhale when you bend. It may sound very simple, but so many of us do not even have the idea that it works that way.

Many of us actually even forget to breathe. I have to say that it is not that natural to breathe when you are doing a jump or a spin. Kathy [Johnson] (Chan's coach in Detroit), has been the first one to teach that to me. Your feet are just the reflection of your whole body.

Icenetwork: Three weeks ago, you told icenetwork that you had some negative thoughts. What do you need to have positive thoughts instead?

Chan: Throughout my skating career, I have learned from experience that I needed to be happy. I try to remember this year why I am doing all this, what keeps me motivated to compete. For the last two years, I felt nervous, up to the point where I did not feel like competing at all. I felt heavy on the ice. I had some doubts sneak in. The first year after my first world gold medal was really difficult.

Then, right before my Skate Canada short program, I thought I needed to change mindsets. I told myself that I really wanted to be present, and that I was eager to show my program to the audience and judges. I try to put things into perspective. I tell myself that I am really lucky. I have some talent, I have three world gold medals. I could even retire now, since I have accomplished even more than I ever thought I would. I am in good health, skating gives me a good life, I can travel around the world.

Also, I see some of my friends from high school. Now they are graduating from university and have some difficulty getting their first job. I don't! I realize how lucky I am.

Johnson, who has worked with such skaters as Matt Savoie and Jeremy Abbott, kindly explained the work she is doing with Chan.

Johnson: Indeed, I don't do what other coaches do. My background is in dancing, as I was trained at the Juilliard School. Patrick was looking for something different that would provide him with enhanced performance and even some additional technique. If you want to get something different, you have to do something different.

Skaters have a glide factor. Speed helps them correct their balance. A dancer has no glide factor and needs to learn quickly how to transfer his weight and find his center as he leaves for a jump. This is what skaters need to learn.

Many skaters take dance lessons, but they do not transfer their knowledge to the ice. Dance has far more than artistic to bring to skating. Dancing work is transforming, not just artistic. It certainly takes a leap of faith and bravery, but such a work has proven its definite value.

Patrick has two really important activities besides skating: He works on his strength through off-ice training and conditioning in gyms. Then, he works on his moves in a studio to work on balance, core, dance and the way to transfer to the ice.