Ice Network

World champions talk new season, new programs

Asada, Chan, Tuktamisheva, Fernández provide self-analysis, state goals
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Three-time world champion Patrick Chan said he is looking forward to his showdown with Yuzuru Hanyu at Skate Canada, -Wei Xiong

The 2015-16 figure skating season features a clash of the old(er) and the new(ish).

On one hand, fans are thrilled to welcome back a pair of three-time world champions, Mao Asada and Patrick Chan, both of whom took a year off from competition after the 2014 Sochi Olympics. On the other, there is the excitement surrounding the dynamic brand of skating exhibited by current world champions Elizaveta Tuktamisheva and Javier Fernández.

Last Saturday, these four world champions all kicked off their season at the 2015 Japan Open in Saitama. After the competition, they talked about the stories behind their new programs and revealed their goals for the coming season.

Surrounded by more than 16,000 fans chanting "Welcome back!" Mao Asada led off her post-event interview by exclaiming, "I am back!"

Indeed. Her first performance after more than 500 days away from competition -- featuring a successful triple axel, six other well-done triple jumps and Level 4 spins and step sequence -- was a clear demonstration of her competition readiness.

Asada said the time she spent away from the sport was necessary for her mental health.

"During the break, I seldom thought about skating," Asada said. "Gradually, in my head, only the good memories about competitions remained, and therefore I could come back and skate with joy. I really think I am in a very good mental condition today."

This season, in an effort to showcase her maturity and strength, Asada will skate to Madame Butterfly for her free skate.

"Madame Butterfly is a very sad story of a lady who keeps waiting for the man she loves. However, mentally she is a very tough Japanese lady, a role that I wanted to play," Asada said. "I think today I was not only able to execute the jumps but also interpret and skate the way I wanted to. I hope I can reflect my learning today and perform a better Madame Butterfly in coming competitions."

Chan also feels the time off helped him clear his head as well as add maturity to his skating.

"I am a different athlete now," Chan said. "I was pretty upset after the Olympics about the result (he finished second to Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu), but I had a year to enjoy my life and to enjoy the result I had."

He is keeping the Chopin medley free skate he used at last year's Japan Open but has overhauled the choreography, with the help of David Wilson. The result is a program with more emotional depth.

"Having the experience performing in front of an audience and improving my interpretation of music, listening to different types of music and performing to that -- those are the things you can only learn from performing," Chan said. "Maturity, I think, is the biggest difference this year."

In less than a month, Chan will have a showdown with Hanyu at Skate Canada.

"It will be a great competition for the audience. I am so glad that it's going to be myself and him, a rematch after the Olympics," Chan said. "I probably won't be 100 percent in shape, as I am still learning and getting comfortable competing again this year, so it's not going to be the easiest for me. But I will give it my best."

Tuktamisheva also attended the post-event press conference, where she talked about her programs in detail.

"Peer Gynt (her free skate) is choreographed by Stéphane Lambiel," Tuktamisheva revealed. "The image of the lady in the story keeps changing, and so does the music. The program turns into a carnival toward the end, at the same time the emotions explode.

"My short program is an exotic piece, 'Carmina Burana,'" she continued. "It is about a battle between good and evil. In the story, the angel turns into a devil, and the devil turns into an angel. It requires me to express very strong emotion, which is very difficult, but I will try my best. Unfortunately, at the end of the story, the devil wins (laughs)."

Tuktamisheva fell on her triple axel attempt in the event, but she said she was still confident in the jump going forward.

"At least in the first half of the season, I will keep the current layout and improve the consistency of my triple axel," Tuktamisheva said. "If everything goes well, I may try to add another triple axel in the second half of the season."

Fernández, meanwhile, is more focused on choreography, especially in the short.

"It's something new for me; I've never done a flamenco program this way," Fernández admitted. "I've been working with the best flamenco teacher that I could've ever imagined, the best of the best: Antonio Najarro. He is the director of the Spanish National Ballet, so he is the top. Just watching him doing it, you learn a lot. You see how you're doing it, and how it is supposed to be, and that really helps me. And then, working in front of the mirror, having a picture of Antonio doing it and then watching myself doing it, I can see the mistakes, I can try to improve it. It's hard and it needs a lot of work."

This season, the Grand Prix Final will once again be held in Barcelona, and the Spaniard doesn't want to miss it.

"I will go to China, which is number three of the Grand Prix Series, and Russia, which is number five," Fernández said. "Before number three, I have those extra weeks for training, and then after number five, I will have two weeks until the Grand Prix Final, if I qualify. So, for me, that would be the perfect timing."

Besides the four world champions, the Japan Open also featured other big names, like reigning Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova and former U.S. champion Gracie Gold. Both submitted themselves to short interviews on TV Tokyo after the event.

Sotnikova revealed her short-term goals.

"This season I want to recover to the shape I was in during the Sochi Olympics and enjoy skating," Sotnikova said. "I want to take part in more competitions."

After a disappointing performance in Saitama, Gold was candid about the challenges she faces.

"Look at what other ladies are doing right now. I need to work on my triple-triple combination consistency, and really all of my jumps' consistency," Gold acknowlegded. "I really lost my technical edge over the other competitors.

"But I think that my program is pretty good; it's pretty well choreographed this year," she continued. "I think that as this season goes on, I will have a better chance of beating them and skating well."