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Nichol has pre-worlds tune-up with Rochette, Chan

Still, choreographer won't be able to relax when championships start in L.A.

Lori Nichol created Patrick Chan's Tango short program this season.
Lori Nichol created Patrick Chan's Tango short program this season. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(03/10/2009) - Lori Nichol's work is done.

The final tune-ups have been made and, now, all she can do is sit back and watch as Canada's Patrick Chan and Joannie Rochette, as well as seven other medal hopefuls, make their bids for the podium at the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles.

Correction: Make that "pace" and watch.

"I won't be able to sit. I'll tell you that," the Canadian choreographer chuckled as she thought ahead to the hours she will spend in front of her television watching the Canadian champions -- as well as Evan Lysacek, Brandon Mroz, Tomas Verner, Nobunari Oda, Rachael Flatt, Mao Asada and Carolina Kostner -- execute the programs she either choreographed or had a hand in refining this season.

Nichol's work with Chan in creating his high-scoring Tango short program and Rachmaninov long played a major role in his success right out of the gate last fall, but, truth be told, Chan spent several weeks "playing" with movement to the Tango before he embraced Nichol's musical choice.

"No diva whatsoever in him" is how Nichol describes the 18-year-old Canadian men's champion who turned heads whenever he stepped on the ice this season.

"He's such a great mix of athlete and artist. I just feel honored to work with him," said Nichol, whose own star rose in the late 1990s as the choreographer for American superstar Michelle Kwan.

Nichol reports that Chan rested for a few days after his stellar win at the 2009 Four Continents Championships in Vancouver, and that he has been home in Toronto catching up on schoolwork after having spent most of the season training in Florida with Don Laws.

Nichol took the reins with the now-two-time Canadian champ in recent weeks, helping to make sure he was getting enough rest, paying attention to proper nutrition and preparing a strategy to deal with "the overwhelming stress" of the upcoming worlds. In L.A., she said, the newfound pressures of being a medal favorite will come into play for the first time.

Staying healthy, motivated and set to peak at worlds are the keys for Chan's success now, not looking for ways to get more points, Nichol advised.

"We've been working very hard at creating a plan for every day, making sure he does a warm-up off ice and a longer warm-up on the ice to make the transition from the school brain to the skating brain," Nichol said.

"I worked a lot on performance -- the interpretation aspect, skating skills, proper knee action, where the breathing spots were, where he could get more speed."

In February, after watching Chan's performances in Vancouver, Nichol told the skater that he needed to work on the centering and speed of his spins. He took that to heart and now goes into each spin focused on making every one the best he has ever done.

"He's building up very steadily and in a very solid way towards peaking at worlds. I'm very pleased," noted Nichol, who was headed to the Carribean for a family vacation this week before the world championships and her Olympic-season work begin.

As for the teenager's meteoric rise, Nichol said she doesn't think about how good Chan is for his age, only about what his potential is and how to make certain he reaches it.

"He's incredibly talented, incredibly disciplined and driven, so why can't he be mind-blowingly amazing for a long period of time? But, a lot of things come into play. He has to stay that disciplined and stay that driven. He has to be willing to open himself to new experiences and, so far, he is excelling in all of that.

"But, it's a new world, and he has to learn how to compete in different scenarios and tap into that part of himself that he hasn't gone to yet, so we'll see. That's one of the great mysteries. It'll be fun to watch," said Nichol, who also gained great acclaim for creating Jamie Salé and David Pelletier's iconic Love Story program.

While Nichol has long choreographed routines for Chan, this season was the first time she and Rochette collaborated.

Nichol created the five-time Canadian champion's long program, set to "Concierto de Aranjuez." That program was instrumental in taking Rochette to the top step at two Grand Prix podiums and in her silver-medal performance at Four Continents.

Nichol and Rochette were a month late in setting that program after Nichol fell on the ice and broke three ribs last June while working with another skater. That injury kept forcing Nichol off the ice as she pushed herself to continue working during her three-month recovery period.

"The music was incredible for her. It was all about finding who she was emotionally. Besides tapping into the best of Joannie, my main goal was to give her a much broader range of motion and feel more passion ... . It was about finding the emotional fire," Nichol recalled, noting that the personal love story behind Rodrigo's music made that possible.

Nichol credits Rochette and her coach, Manon Perron, with putting in the hard work required to master the choreography and respecting the piece as choreographed by not making changes to any steps.

After Four Continents, Nichol "tweaked things" in Rochette's program, particularly the straight line step sequence, which Nichol decided was not fluid enough.

"I just helped it grow to the next level, nothing major. She has been doing such a great job -- skating it so well, consistently -- I only wanted to motivate it further and not really do big changes," said Nichol, who has already talked with Rochette about creating her Olympic-season long program.

Asked how she thinks the upcoming world championships might unfold, Nichol said she never makes predictions.

"I give everything I have to each one of the skaters. Just like with my children, I love them both. It's my job to make the best of their strengths and help them work with their weaknesses and help them be happy, well-adjusted people, and I see skating exactly the same way."

Her goal in the pre-worlds tune-up with her clients, Nichol said, was to make sure they are "motivated, inspired and feel as ready as they can be."