THE CANADIAN PRESS
MOSCOW — These world figure skating championships have been likened to crossing the finish line in a long-distance race only to be told you still have a lap to go.
"I compare it to being a tiger who was given its meal, and then having it taken away right under its nose," said Canada’s Patrick Chan. "It kind of feels like that."
The delayed and relocated world championships opened Monday in Moscow, more than a month after they were originally scheduled to begin in Tokyo, before Japan was pummelled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Now, finally, Chan hopes to make a meal out of his competition.
The 20-year-old from Toronto, the two-time defending world silver medallist, is the favourite here based both on his victory at the Grand Prix Final and his stunning skate at the Canadian championships in January.
He hopes this breakthrough season means he’s turned a corner on his career for good, and his ultimate vision for his career is within his grasp. Chan, a big fan of bold statements, said he’d like to dominate the event for years to come. Think what Wayne Gretzky did for hockey, or Tiger Woods for golf.
"It’s a dream, it’s go big or go home for me, reach for the best," said Chan, dressed in shorts and T-shirt after his practice, a tattoo of the Olympic rings adorning his left calf muscle. "There’s always that one athlete that dominates in every sport. Tennis, it’s Roger Federer at one point, Tiger Woods in golf at one point. It’s kind of like a club."
Chan certainly looked the part in his practice session Monday at Megasport Arena, soaring through a picture-perfect quad jump to draw a cheer from the small crowd of skaters and officials seated in the arena.
His coaches and Skate Canada officials marvel at the growth in the young skater since he finished fifth at the Vancouver Olympics and then claimed his second consecutive world championship silver medal last March in Turin, Italy.
"With Patrick, where he’s going to go and where he can help move the sport is just on the way up right now," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director. "It will be pretty neat to see where he is a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. Technically he’s on par with everyone, if not pushing the bar a bit higher, but it’s a matter of him going out and doing what he can and making the guys chase him."
The one major difference, said Chan, is that he believes gold is his for the taking.
"Definitely, that’s the biggest thing that happened this year," said Chan. "I think that’s how the best become the best. The greatest athletes, like Federer and Woods and Gretzky, they know if they step on the ice or the field they can win. It gives you a sense of confidence, you have something to back you up, so every time you step on the ice you can hold your head up high."
Chan’s meteoric rise to the top of the men’s field this season was fuelled by adding a quad jump to his arsenal. He landed three at the Canadian championships — one in his short program, two in his long — en route to scoring a world’s best score of 285.85 points in January. His score didn’t count as a world record as he did it in his event, but it created a big buzz regardless. Four-time world champion Kurt Browning said that, had it been the Olympics, Chan would have won gold.
Chan said there’s also an ease to his skating that he didn’t possess last year.
"I watched my program from last year and I see so much difference, I can tell my program has so much more patience, it breathes," he said. "It has a lot of time to relax and then speed up again and relax again."
He owes that, he said, to his work with new modern dance teacher Kathy Johnson, a grad of New York’s famous Juilliard School, whose teaching methods included having Chan watch videos of ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
For the mental side of his game, he sought the help of American Brian Boitano, figuring Boitano knew a little something about pressure. Boitano shrugged off the weight of a country’s hopes in the "Battle of the Brians" to beat Canada’s Brian Orser for gold at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Chan’s coach Christy Krall made a few calls to track down Boitano and now the two skaters talk regularly.
The mental work was good practice for these world championships, which haven’t played out exactly how Chan envisioned them. He was pawing the ground ready to go a month ago before the disasters in Japan left all the skaters in limbo. The International Skating Union then spent 10 days before determining that the event would be moved to Moscow after concern it would be cancelled outright.
"It was a very difficult situation. At one point, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t even want to do it, I would rather they cancel it,’ because I kind of had that little dip down because I was so ready to go," Chan said. "But I was smart in my strategic planning for my schedule."
Opening day Monday showed no obvious signs of a hastily organized event — one that normally allows three years to plan for. The event has a logo, colourful banners flew on flagpoles outside the arena, and dozen of posters decorated the arena walls.
Chan, however, said the event has a strange vibe.
"It doesn’t feel like other world championships to be honest, it doesn’t feel normal, it feels very different,"he said. "It feels like we’re not supposed to be here, but we are and we’re supposed to be on our ‘A’ game when we’re usually not supposed to be."
Another lesson to be learned, he said, en route to his ultimate plan.
"I think this year for me is about being able to handle adversity and being able to handle changes and surprises, even in practice sessions, so I think it’s a good time to practise and prove that I can be a chameleon and change to my environment," Chan said.
He’ll skate his short program Wednesday to the jazz tune "Take Five" by Paul Desmond. The long program — Chan is skating his program from last season to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Phantom of the Opera" — is Thursday.
His competition will come from a strong trio of Japanese skaters — defending world champion Daisuke Takahashi, Nobunari Oda and Takahiko Kazuka — France’s Brian Joubert and Florent Amodio, and Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic.