With the Winter Olympic Games coming to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada in 2010, the Canadian public is hoping to see some of its own skaters on the podium. It is in men’s figure skating that Canada has its best statistical chance of a medal with Canadian men standing on the podium in five of the last seven Olympics. Although Russian skaters have won the last four Olympic Games, skating in the countries of the former Soviet Union has declined dramatically since Torino in 2006 with Russian skaters totally shut out of the medals at the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan last season.
One of Canada’s best hopes for the Olympic Games is Patrick Chan, 16, a Toronto native who is already ranked 13th in the world. Chan, who has been the pre-novice, novice and the junior men’s champion in Canada, finished second at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany last season, the highest finish for a Canadian man since Marc Ferland in 1984. “The 2010 Olympics are all I think about,” Chan noted. “It seems like they’re almost here but I think I have enough time to get ready.”
Chan is modest about his accomplishments of last season. “I had kind of a mediocre season,” he said. “It was up and down and I could have done a lot better. The medal at Junior Worlds was unexpected, but I could have won. At least I made the national team for this season. Hopefully this season will be better. I was nervous in France at my first Grand Prix last year. I think I’ll be a bit more at ease this year.” Chan will open the season at Skate America, then return to France for Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire. “I want to medal at my Grand Prixs and Nationals this year,” Chan stated. “I’d prefer to go to Worlds rather than Junior Worlds this year.”
Chan started skating at the age of five. “I wanted to play hockey but my mom wanted me to try figure skating first,” he said. “She thought it would be easier if I had good technique first.” Canadian Hall of Fame coach Osborne Colson, the 1936 and 1937 Canadian champion, trained Chan at the Granite Club in Toronto until last summer. “He had always been my coach except for my Learn to Skate class,” Chan said. “He taught me the basics of skating, what figure skating is built around. And he taught me to be a good person.” After Colson’s death in July 2006, Chan was left adrift with his first senior international events on the horizon.
“Having a new coach was not too difficult,” Chan said. “I didn’t struggle too much with the change because Mr. Colson would often send me to other coaches to train because he didn’t want me to hear the same voice every day. I worked out last summer with Doug Leigh in Barrie and made a big step in landing my triple Axel and quad toe loop but I didn’t think that Barrie was the place for me. I had to come home to Toronto to go to school and to represent the Granite Club.”
“I worked with Shin Amano for about six months,” Chan continued. “Because Mr. Colson’s death was so sudden, there was no one to replace him at Granite Club who had available time. I didn’t want a coach who would try to make too many changes in the middle of the season and Shin agreed to that.”
Chan is now working with U.S. Hall of Fame coach Don Laws as his primary coach. Laws coached Scott Hamilton to an Olympic gold medal in 1984. “I started working with Mr. Laws in Florida last summer,” Chan stated. “I felt a good connection with him and it feels good getting lessons from him. I came to Florida to train for three weeks spaced out over the summer last year and really felt that he was the right coach for me. During the season, I came to work with him whenever I had school break, a long weekend or week off, and Christmas. This summer, I came down right after school exams on June 26 and stayed until school started back again at the end of August.”
“While I’m in Toronto, I work with Ellen Burka,” Chan said. “She works with me to keep my programs up to the right level and helps with fine tuning my programs. She watches my jumps and gives me comments but doesn’t teach me any new jump techniques.” Chan usually trains for four hours on ice and three hours off ice daily, except for Sunday. His off ice training includes yoga, Pilates, cycling class, weights and physio training. He has been doing yoga for the last three years and Pilates for two.
Chan has already competed once this season at the Liberty Open, which he won. He landed a triple Axel in both the short and the long, the first time he had been successful in both programs. For the short, Chan is using a triple flip/triple toe loop combination. For the long, he is adding a triple salchow/double toe loop and triple lutz/double toe loop/double loop combination to the triple flip/triple toe. Although he completed a triple lutz/triple toe loop at last year’s Junior Worlds, he isn’t using the combination in this year’s programs.
Since last year, Chan has become much more consistent with his triple Axel. “Last season I was landing about one a day,” he said. “This summer, I’m landing about seven out of ten. I’m also doing triple Axel/triple toe in practice at about the same rate. I don’t have much trouble adding the triple toe if I hit the Axel.”
Chan landed his first clean quadruple toe loop last summer but hasn’t added the jump to his program this early in the season. “Maybe by Nationals,” he said. “I’m only hitting about ten percent right now.”
“I’ve been scoring well with my skating skills and transitions,” Chan noted, “but for some reason, my spins were weaker this summer. I’ve been working hard to get the spins better so I think I’m back to square one on that.”
This is the second season that Lori Nichol has choreographed Chan’s programs. “Two years ago, I saw Chris Mabee’s Pearl Harbor program and loved it,” Chan stated. “I realized Lori did it and asked her to do my programs for the 2006-07 season. I’ve always loved her work. Whatever music she picks for me is the best. I’m using Exile to Snowy West and In The Bamboo Forest by Tan Dun from Banquet (a Chinese movie) for the short. The piano in it is played by Lang Lang, a famous Chinese pianist. Lori wanted me to try something new and she thought that music matched my style.”
“The long program music is the same as I used last season – excerpts from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,” Chan continued. “That was my decision. I saw Lambiel’s Four Seasons program and liked it a lot so I wanted to use that music. The only kind of classical music I like is Four Seasons, but I like modern, more hip versions of classical music, like Vanessa Mae. Maybe I’ll try some of that music in the future. I try to change one program each year, so next season I’ll keep the short and find a new long.”
Chan used Nessum Dorma for exhibitions last season but has not selected a new gala piece.
Off ice, Chan listens to soft rock or acoustic guitar music with one of his favorite artists being John Mayer. Even with his heavy training schedule, Chan also continues to take weekly piano lessons.
He enjoys playing golf and tennis but hasn’t been able to ski since last winter in Oberstdorf after Junior Worlds. “I try to do as much other sports as I can to forget skating,” Chan said. “It makes me feel better with a day off away from skating. That’s something Mr. Colson always told me. I like the water a lot. I like to swim and go to the beach whenever I can.” Cars are a recent passion. He likes driving cars, reading about cars, and playing racing video games.
Chan is in his final year of high school at Etienne-Brule in Toronto where his favorite subjects are mathematics and business. He plans to study business or commerce in university
As with most skaters, financing his training is a major obstacle for Chan. Although there are still some opportunities for eligible skaters to profit from skating shows and exhibitions, skaters who have already retired from competition take up most of the available jobs and Chan didn’t skate in any shows this summer. With Skate Canada providing only a small portion of funding for his training, Chan must rely on his family and donations from benefactors to continue his quest for Olympic gold.