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Dream season for Canada's Patrick Chan

Teen will add second triple Axel to free skate

Last season, Patrick Chan became the youngest Canadian men's champ, ever.
Last season, Patrick Chan became the youngest Canadian men's champ, ever. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(03/12/2008) - It's been a dream season for 17-year-old Patrick Chan.

First, he surprised skating's elite by winning gold at the Trophée Eric Bompard, and then he surprised himself by snatching the Canadian crown from 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle in January.

This week, the Toronto teen was busy putting the final touches on revamped and upgraded programs in advance of his debut at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. The 2007 junior world silver medalist has added a second triple Axel to his Vivaldi "Four Seasons" long program. The program, which drew thunderous applause at the 2008 Canadian National Championships, vaulted him past Buttle to the top of the national podium and made Chan the youngest Canadian men's champion in history.

"After nationals, it was hard to start up again, start training again, especially after such a high and with such a great season so far," Chan said. "But everything has been going smoothly so far... I'm pretty much back to where I was before nationals."

Chan opted out of Four Continents in South Korea in February to focus on his high school exams. To try to make that event would have exhausted him, especially on top of an unexpected trip to the Grand Prix Final, where he ranked fifth. Chan also worked with his choreographer, Lori Nichol, to rearrange his long program in order to insert the second triple Axel. That addition is requiring more mental power than Chan had imagined.

"Before, I was used to getting one triple Axel done and then, pretty much, I was home-free -- kind of. Now, I have to get one done, and it's just like, 'OK. One's done. Check mark.' Then I really have to start preparing myself mentally for the next one," Chan explained. "It was quite difficult for a couple of weeks. It's still pretty difficult, but I think it will be OK by the time I get [to Sweden].

"To be at worlds and to get a head start on the road to 2010, it was a good idea to get the second triple Axel started as soon as possible," said Chan, who reports that his presentation level has improved significantly since Canadians thanks to his work with Nichol.

Surprisingly, Chan had not trained with his Florida-based coach Don Laws until this past week. "Since nationals, I haven't been to Florida because it's been too expensive to fly down," he said.

Given that he was fifth in Canada last season, Chan's funding from Skate Canada is minimal compared to training assistance provided to accomplished veterans such as Buttle.

High performance director Mike Slipchuk noted that Chan's successes this season will translate into more funding in the coming season as he challenges the sport's elite. Slipchuk allowed, however, that Skate Canada will have to look at how they can best assist athletes such as Chan, Buttle and ice dance contenders Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, whose coaches are based in the U.S.

Chan said Skate Canada has not put pressure on him, as far as expected results, in his first appearance on the senior world stage, although Slipchuk suggested he make it his goal to exceed a 240-point total score. Chan posted almost 233 points at Canadians.

"If I put pressure on myself, I think that's only going to slow me down on the road to 2010," Chan said. "I think it will make it harder on myself. This time, I want to try to enjoy myself the most. From what I hear, worlds is quite the thing, so I am just going to go and give it my best shot."

Meanwhile, Buttle, who was a disappointing sixth at worlds a year ago, said he feels confident heading to Sweden, despite not being ready to re-introduce a quadruple jump into his repertoire.

"The key is to stay consistent, relaxed," said Buttle, who has upped his training time from two to four daily on-ice sessions this season.

Asked about the season's dominant performer, Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, who won Four Continents with an all-time high score, Buttle said, "There was no question at Four Continents he blew us out of the water, to be quite honest. If he skates like that at worlds, no, I can't [beat him]. I don't have the repertoire in my program to compete with that.

"I don't want to go focusing on that, because that's what I did last year, and it didn't do me any good. I'm just going there to do my own thing, and that's really all I can control," said Buttle, who claimed silver at Four C's.

Buttle, who trains part-time in California with Raphael Arutunian, reported that only his Canadian coach, Lee Barkell, will be with him in Sweden now that Arutunian is not accompanying gold-medal contender Mao Asada of Japan to the world championships. Canada earned just two men's berths for the worlds this year based on the subpar results from Buttle and Emanuel Sandhu in 2007.