Ice Network

Chan, Chen in Canton with different goals in mind

Canadian aims to solidify jumps; U.S. youngster looks to enhance artistry
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Under new coaches Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein, Patrick Chan is attempting to strengthen his triple axel, a jump that eluded him in the short program at Skate Canada. -Getty Images

At Skate Canada on Friday, the mixed zone was part athletic debriefing, part late night soul-searching for Patrick Chan.

Canada's three-time world champion wasn't having a crisis of confidence, exactly, but he did sound like a man who could use an ego boost.

"You can be Olympic champion, you can be world champion multiple times like myself, and you are still reaching," he said. "It's just funny that results really don't mean anything; it doesn't give you more confidence. It really comes from within."

From 2011 up through the 2014 Olympic Games, Chan -- with his superb skating skills and reliable quadruple toe loop -- was hard to beat, even with a mistake or two in his programs.

Then came the loss to Yuzuru Hanyu in Sochi, followed by a season off. His return last season wasn't a disaster, but a fifth-place finish at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships put pressure on him to add another quad to his programs.

His new coach, Marina Zoueva, tells him every day, "You can do everything," and as he worked through his thoughts Friday night, it sounded as if he was starting to agree.

"Training with Marina now, she's taught me to start believing in myself a lot more," he said. "Some of the things I am doing well are the right things, where sometimes (before), I wasn't sure. It's just nice to get a different opinion also from somebody who has raised many Olympic champions and seen a lot of good quality skating."

Chan has trained at Zoueva's rink in Canton, Michigan, for several months. He announced he would be coached by Zoueva and Oleg Epstein in September, and in the lead-up to Skate Canada, he said he would try three quads in his free skate this season, including a quadruple salchow.

"I know how to approach the jump mentally and physically," he said. "My goal is to put it out early in the season so I can do it at worlds with more confidence."

For that he thanks Zoueva as well as Epstein, a former Soviet who moved from the Chicago area in 2012 to work with Zoueva in Canton.

"Oleg is the technical, and Marina is the overseer; she gives those little comments that make you realize this isn't the end all, be all," Chan said. "She has those little moments reminding me, 'Hey, you're trained and ready -- go for it,' and those comments go a long way."

Epstein and Zoueva videotape Chan's jumps and have worked to strengthen his triple axel, which Chan said had grown very consistent over the summer.

"We try to make a structure of what, exactly, he needs to do to control his body and what he needs for each moment: the preparation, take-off," Epstein said. "I cannot say this is all new for him, but [breaking it down] really helps him understand how to control the jump at every moment."

The skater hit most of his triple axel attempts in practices here but fell on the jump in his short program Friday.

"He made a little mistake because he almost kind of skidded on the take-off, which he usually doesn't do," Epstein said. "So he knows what the problem was and definitely he will work more on it."

Chan closed out his late-night session with words that would have held true with any of his coaches: the late Osborne Colson and Don Laws; Christy Krall in Colorado Springs, who trained his quad salchow during the 2011-12 season; and, most recently, Kathy Johnson.

"I think it's just putting in the hours, putting in the training, and doing the repetitions over and over," he said.

Taking a different approach with Chen

Chan's training partner in Canton, 17-year-old Nathan Chen, also inspired the Canadian to up the ante from a technical perspective. Chen tries four different quads -- toe, salchow, flip and lutz -- in his programs, and he defeated Chan at Finlandia Trophy earlier in the season.

"I see how technically stronger he is than I am. I've learned to accept it and just be amazed by the ability of these kids," Chan said. "It's motivated me to do quad salchow and to put it this early in the season."

Chen trained with Rafael Arutunian in California for several seasons and has not announced a formal coaching change. But the U.S. bronze medalist has been working in Canton since at least September, and Zoueva accompanied him to Finlandia.

"[Chan and Chen] make a very good combination, because Patrick has beautiful skating skills, probably the best, and each time he skates it's like I have a moving Rembrandt painting in my rink," Zoueva said.

"But when Nathan jumps, it's also amazing. He has four different quad jumps of very good quality."

Zoueva, who coached Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, as well as Meryl Davis and Charlie White to Olympic ice dance gold, does not think it is unusual to have two top men training in her rink.

"It is only in [more recent years] I coach mostly dance," she said. "In Russia, and when I first came to North America, I coached singles and pairs. In 1989, at the Russian nationals, I coached the top man, Alexander Fadeev; the top lady, Anna Kondrashova; and the top pair (Katia Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov) with Stanislav Leonovich."

A similar scenario could unfold in the U.S. this season, with Zoueva coaching Chen and world ice dance silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. She also choreographed Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier's short program, and worked with Frazier for several months last season on his skating skills.

Goal number one for Zoueva and Epstein is to enhance Chen's skating and performance skills.

"He has a beautiful, beautiful body line that is unbelievable," Zoueva said. "He is naturally very fast -- that's how he does his quads -- and all his movements right now (have) a little bit of quickness. That's what we are working on now, to (create) balance between very quick and sharp (movements) and other movements, and for nice knee action and arms.

"We do a lot of exercises that help the skaters understand the position of their bodies on the ice -- the hips, the legs -- many things we usually do with ice dancers," Epstein said. "[Chan and Chen] are learning a lot from the ice dancers now, and the ice dancers are learning from them."

Zoueva does not plan to re-tool Chen's jumping technique, which was largely formed during his time with Arutunian, a noted technical coach.

"We work with the technical (side) also. We use video, but we will not change his technique at all; we will just follow the Rafael school," she said. "The mission is to give Nathan the best we can. Anytime we need help, I am pretty sure we will have support from [U.S. Figure Skating] and other coaches, and we are open to that. All of us just want to make the best of Nathan's talent."

One thing she doesn't plan, at least not yet, is a new free skate for Chen. Zoueva choreographed his short to music from the ballet Le Corsaire, but his free skate to Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances" was done by Nadia Kanaeva, one of his coaches in California.

"Of course we will work on the program he has, work to improve everything as the season goes along," Zoueva said. "We have an idea for a new program, but maybe we will save that for next year."