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Chan seeks advice from noteworthy countrymen

Stojko tells reigning two-time world champion: 'Don't get caught in the hype'

Patrick Chan does want to hit his peak before the forthcoming Olympic season.
Patrick Chan does want to hit his peak before the forthcoming Olympic season. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(01/11/2013) - Patrick Chan was happy to put much of 2012 behind him. He even began 2013 a year older, since he celebrated his 22nd birthday on New Year's Eve.

After winning his second world title, Chan made a coaching change, switched choreographers and then opened the season with a four-fall, last-place showing at the Japan Open. Although he scored a victory at the Rostelecom Cup in Russia, he ended 2012 with a disappointing third-place finish at the Grand Prix Final.

"This is a weird kind of year, a limbo year," Chan said. "Next year is an Olympic year, and that's when I want to have the program of my life -- and at this point, the anticipation is driving me crazy. In a way, I wish it was already here."

To get from where Chan is now -- about a week away from trying to capture his sixth consecutive Canadian title -- to the top of the podium at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, will not be easy.

But Chan considers himself lucky, as he was surrounded by some friends -- who just happen to be fellow world champions -- during a four-city tour in December. Bus rides between Newmarket and Sudbury might not be too exciting, but Chan made the most of the drive time by chatting with Kurt Browning, Jeff Buttle and Elvis Stojko, who have won a combined eight world titles, and seeking their advice on how to prepare for this season and the upcoming Olympic Games.

"He really did pick my brain," Stojko said. "I gave him a few insights, and I could see his brain click, so I said, 'Shoot away. Ask me what you want.' "

And Chan did.

The main topic of discussion was how to mentally prepare for competition, and for Stojko, an avid follower of the martial arts, this was right up his alley. Not only can Stojko relate to the fact that Chan is under a heavy spotlight in Canada as a two-time world champion headed into an Olympic year as one of the world's best, but also to the fact that Chan is not having one of his better seasons.

Rare is the skater who is on a constant upward trajectory.

"He wanted me to compare practice to the competition, and I told him, 'Rarely do you want to win all of your practices,' " Stojko said. "Your big goal is to be prepared for competition. Once the competition starts, no one cares what you did in practice the whole week. Don't get caught in the hype.

"I remember at '97 worlds, at my last practice, I did one triple Axel and two triple toes and walked through the rest. Everyone kept asking, 'Is Elvis OK? Is everything cool?' But I knew I was ready. I didn't have to do five quads in a row."

Stojko went on to win the 1997 world title, the third of his career.

"I tend to be very much a perfectionist," Chan said. "I start ripping off a lot of jumps, and I don't let my body rest. He told me I need to take a step back. It's really about building to the competition. I learned a lot of good things from him."

It can be difficult for a skater not to put much stock in practices at a major competition, especially when the eyes of coaches, judges and rivals are on you. But Stojko said that is exactly what Chan must do to succeed at nationals, at this season's world championships (which happen to be held in Canada) and, most important, in Sochi.

Although Chan referred to the worlds as the "priority of the season," Stojko suggested that Chan not put too much pressure on himself. After all, Stojko and Browning both know that winning a world crown the year before the Olympics is not necessarily an indicator of who will take home the gold medal from the Games.

Brian Orser won the 1987 world title but finished second behind Brian Boitano at the 1988 Olympics. Browning won the world title in 1991 and 1993 but did not strike Olympic gold in 1992 or 1994. And Stojko grabbed the 1997 world crown only to finish second in 1998.

"He's very competitive, and that's OK," Stojko said of Chan. "And it's OK that he's had the rough season. Have it now. Leading up to the Olympic year, you want to get rid of all of the cobwebs. It's better to learn that now.

"Sometimes, it's better not to win worlds. I always felt it was easier to be the hunter. When you're in the No. 1 spot, you're always worried about what you are going to lose."

Following the brief Canadian tour, Chan took a vacation in Hawaii, and some zip-lining on the tropical islands seemed to alleviate some of the stress.

But upon his return to Colorado Springs, where he trains with coach Kathy Johnson, he was back to perfecting his programs.

Only once this season, at the Rostelecom Cup, did he land both his quad toe-triple toe combination and the ensuing quad toe in the free skate to La bohème. He fell on the combination at the Grand Prix Final and touched down on the landing of the quad toe at Skate Canada.

"I don't have any secret weapon that I've been working on," Chan said. "I've been going back to what has worked before the last two worlds, and, basically, that's doing things like more run-throughs. My nemesis is I haven't been able to consistently skate a clean program, and I really want to be consistent in landing those back-to-back quads."

Reporter's notebook: Stojko will not be attending the Canadian championships, and he is unlikely to be at worlds. He has been busy juggling his two passions: skating and go-kart racing. This weekend, he is performing in the "Unforgettable Moments of Love on Ice" show in Kent, Wash., and he will be in Ottawa on Jan. 26 for a charity show run by Liz Manley. He will be reunited with Browning and Buttle in Peterborough on Feb. 6 for "Rock the Ice." He plans to head back to his home in Mexico, however, to prepare for upcoming karting events and hopes to compete in races in Florida and Nevada.