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Chan draws on past in effort to win gold in Sochi

Reigning three-time world champion reprises 'greatest hits' in new Vivaldi free

Patrick Chan is Canada's best-ever hope to bring back an Olympic gold medal in the men's figure skating competition.
Patrick Chan is Canada's best-ever hope to bring back an Olympic gold medal in the men's figure skating competition. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/19/2013) - After a tumultuous 2012-13 campaign, Patrick Chan plans to stay within his comfort zone at the Sochi Olympics.

Canada's three-time world champion returns to favorite moves and familiar music in his new free skate to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the violin concertos he last used during the 2007-08 season.

"The program is kind of my 'greatest hits,' because there are little reminders of my Vivaldi [program] from ['06 through] '08, and little reminders of my programs with Mr. Colson, what he had me do when I skated with him," Chan, 22, said after debuting the free skate at Sunday's Thornhill Summer Competition in Ontario.

"Mr. Colson" was Osborne Colson, the revered coach who trained Chan until his death in 2006, at age 90. The skater credits Colson's insistence on daily stroking and edging drills with his fine basic skating skills, generally considered among the best in the world.

"I've had a lot of success with Vivaldi, and I've wanted to go back to it," Chan said. "The last time I skated that program I knew [I would] do it again for the Olympics after Vancouver."

"That was the last program also before Mr. Colson passed away, so this is kind of coming back to that," he continued. "I'm not trying to push the envelope; this is not the season to try to do that. This is the season to go back to what is comfortable and what makes you happy, what makes you enjoy skating and what makes you skate the best."

Chan wasn't at his best yet on Sunday. After opening with a spectacular quad toe-triple toe combination, followed by another quad with a slight step-out on the landing, he doubled an intended triple Axel and then went on to double, or single, other jumps. Judges awarded him 164.23 points.

"That's OK, because the whole point of the program was to stay on my feet, do the footwork well, do the spins well, do the transitions well, and I think I was able to do that today," he said.

"The whole idea was to put the program out in a competition setting, to get the pacing from beginning to end, which is exactly what he did," Chan's coach, Kathy Johnson, said. "The program is absolutely beautiful, and it highlights what Patrick does best."

The new Four Seasons was choreographed by David Wilson; the earlier effort was created by longtime former choreographer Lori Nichol. The skater is keeping last season's Rachmaninoff short program, done by Jeffrey Buttle.

Chan's performance was overshadowed by that of Nobunari Oda, the former Japanese champion who trains in Barrie, Ontario. Skating to the William Tell Overture, with choreography by Nichol, Oda opened with a quad toe-triple toe, followed by seven other triples, including two triple Axels. He earned 171.41 points. Together with Saturday's short program, his winning total was 249.61. (Chan did not compete a short program at Thornhill.)

Despite the missed jumps, Chan deemed the debut a success.

"I've worked many, many hours just doing sections, piecing it together, like a puzzle," he said. "I was training it really well in Detroit, getting both quads and the Axel and the middle section done, but competition brings out all of the things you need to work on even more. I thought I was trained, and I was trained. I just need to keep getting more miles on this program."

Surprisingly, Chan said one of his biggest points of focus this offseason has been his quad toe, perhaps his most reliable big element last season.

"The quads have been, I think, back to where I feel comfortable," he said. "The biggest thing we did was change the entrance to the quad, the pattern and how it patches with the music. I think we hit it right on, because they feel really good."

"That's a testament to the genius of Patrick Chan," Johnson said. "With [the former] quad patterns, he felt he always had to really work at getting the quad off. Before the choreography phase, we spent time on the ice on the patterns, finding the rhythm and pacing that felt most comfortable. David included those patterns in the choreography."

As reigning world champion, Chan is considered the favorite heading into Sochi, where he could win Canada's first-ever men's figure skating gold medal. Still, last season was scratchy. He lost the free skate at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships to Kazakhstan's Denis Ten when he fell twice and made other errors. A large lead after the short, plus high program component scores, saved the day. Judges may not be as forgiving on the Olympic stage.

"I feel this is a whole new beginning," Chan said. "Right when this Vivaldi program was done, I was just so much more comfortable, so much more focused. I was eager to train the program as opposed to [last season's] La Boheme, which was a bit more dragging. That program felt long, as opposed to this program."

Last season was marked by change, sometimes unexpected. Chan's former coach, Christy Krall, resigned from the skater's team following the 2011-12 season. A few weeks before the 2013 World Championships, Chan and Johnson left Colorado Springs, Colo., where the skater had trained at the World Arena for several years. They settled at the Detroit Skating Club, and both have rented nearby apartments.

"It's a great atmosphere, really good coaching staff, lots of good kids," Johnson said. "He has his own digs; he's all settled."

Some top skaters, including Spain's world bronze medalist Javier Fernández and U.S. champion Max Aaron, plan quads and/or triple Axels in the second half of their free skates in order to rack up bonus points for later jumps. Chan is taking the opposite approach.

"We thought it would be best to put both quads and the Axel right away so I could go kind of relaxed into the footwork," he said. "The last couple of seasons, I used to do double Axel at the end of the program after the footwork. This year we said no, get all of the jumps done so that I can really give my all, 100 percent, to the audience and the judges [with the footwork]."

Chan's first Grand Prix event is Skate Canada at the end of October, an event he has won three times, although he placed second to Fernández there last season. With renewed confidence and more comfortable choreography, things may be different this year.

"I think I'm the biggest contender for a gold medal at these Olympics," he said. "I worked really hard the last three years leading up to these Olympics. ... I'm really happy it's happening this way. I picked a good program, a great coach, a great environment in Detroit to train. It's all coming together. I'm kind of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Hopefully, I can bring something to Canada that's never been brought to it [before]," he continued. "It gives me chills just to think I have that kind of responsibility. Then again, that's what I live for and that's [how] the greatest moments are made."

Reporter's notebook: Asked his views on Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws, Chan expressed support for human rights. "It doesn't matter what color you are, what sexuality you are; if you are successful and you have something to show, you have talent, you deserve to be on the ice with everyone," he said. Unlike some Swedish athletes at the recent world track and field championships in Russia, he does not plan to sport rainbow-colored fingernails as a show of gay support. "I don't have time to preoccupy myself with that kind of stuff, honestly," he said. "I'm already stressed out enough about just getting this program out in time for Sochi and getting ready for that."