Patrick Chan has always been known as the total package — big jumps coupled with intricate spins and a skating ability that is considered the best in the world.
So after his 18-month hiatus, Canada's three-time world champion was dismayed to return to find his sport dominated by quadruple jumps.
And the morning after he won his eighth gold medal at the Canadian figure skating champion, Chan waded back into the quad controversy.
"It's getting a little ridiculous. It's like the slam dunk contest, that's what it's becoming," Chan said. "I will be dead honest, I think with my experience and credibility at this point, I can say already with the men doing three quads, the quality of skating is diminished."
The 25-year-old from Toronto landed two huge quads in his long program Saturday night. He has one in his short program.
His Japanese rival Yuzuru Hanyu has two in his short program and three in his long, and has talked recently about adding another quad. Shoma Uno, a 17-year-old from Japan, who beat Chan to win bronze at the Grand Prix Final, also has five quads over his two programs.
Jin Boyang, an 18-year-old from China, attempted two quads in his short program and four in his long at the Grand Prix Final. He finished fifth.
Controversy back to Stojko
The quad controversy goes back to the days of Canada's Elvis Stojko, and has reared its head periodically, including at the Vancouver Olympics where American Evan Lysacek won gold without a quad. Stojko responded by writing a scathing column for Yahoo Sports under the headline "The Night They Killed Figure Skating."
"People are getting excited because of the jumps, not because, wow, looking at the entire program and saying 'That's beautiful, that's a piece of art right there,"' Chan said. "Now it's 'Wow, did you see that quad [Salchow]? Smoked it.' Ok, but then what did he do after?"
The quad, Chan explained, requires so much set up, with no room for intricate footwork.
"So what's happening, and what you're going to end up seeing is just people moseying down the ice and setting up for a quad. . .," he said. "So four times, that's already two-and-a-half minutes of the long program taken up."
Chan does quad toe loops in his programs, but also lands quad Salchows regularly in practice. He'll eventually add the quad Salchow to competition, but is taking a patient approach to his preparation for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Keeping cards close
Heading into the Sochi Olympics, he was the skater who pushed the rest of the world. This time around, he's keeping his cards close to his chest.
"This is why I'm really glad I'm not panicking about where I'm sitting internationally," Chan said. "Go ahead guys, go for it. Yuzu [Hanyu] and Javi [Fernandez, Spain's world champion] can fight it out. I like to just sit back and stay with my strategy, and we'll see how those guys unfold."
Chan reflected again on a comeback that hasn't been all smooth sailing. After his fourth place finish at the Grand Prix Final, he said "I wanted nothing to do with skating, honestly was very very close to moving on."
His comeback, he said, is partly motivated by his heartbreak in Sochi, where gold was his for the taking after a poor free program by Hanyu. But Chan blew up in his program as well, and walked away from competing soon after.
"It's a little bit, maybe five per cent in my mind still, but my biggest lesson from Sochi was thinking about the medal was the worst thing, added that extra weight of pressure," he said. "There was always that lingering, because again, no man has ever won Olympic gold in Canada.
"I heard it a lot. It's hard for that not to creep into your mind."
Chan hopes having the experience of two Olympics in his back pocket will help him hold up under the pressure in Pyeongchang.
"Maybe it will add a little more normalcy to the Olympics," he said. "If I think of Clara Hughes, how many Olympic Games she's been to [six], an Olympic Games is probably so 'Meh, whatever' to her.
"So maybe I'll have a little more sense of that, where I can step on feel 'aaahhh,' seeing the Olympic rings will bring a sense of calmness, as opposed to being: Oh my god. This is the big leagues."