Imagine running a 1,500-metre cross-country race up and down hills, while leaping over barriers and carrying a sack of potatoes.
That's how Elvis Stojko describes the long program in men's figure skating.
Patrick Chan won his seventh Skate Canada International title on Saturday, but it was with a flawed program that petered out over the final couple of minutes, and had the 25-year-old from Toronto describing himself as the "least-bad skater" on the night.
So Stojko pulled Chan aside to offer advice that could help put him in medal contention at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
"Patrick, he relied on the artistry for so long until everyone caught on, but in the meantime everyone was working on the quads," Stojko said. "Now, he's got one season to get this. He's got to do it now. And I told him 'You're going to make the mistakes bro. You might have to give up competition wins for it."'
The mistakes were many on Saturday. To keep pace with his competition, Chan debuted an ambitious program that included three quads. He started off beautifully, landing a huge quad and triple Axel, but fell on his second quad attempt, and turned the third into a triple. He downgraded several jumps over the final lung-busting couple of minutes.
On a night that saw all but Canadian Kevin Reynolds struggle, Chan's was one of three gold medals for the host nation. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the ice dance title in their first major competition since the Sochi Olympics, and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won the pairs title. Reynolds landed three quads in his bronze-medal performance.
'You've got to push that limit'
Stojko was famous for doing double run-throughs in practice, and suggested Chan try it. The 44-year-old would do a run-through of his four-and-a-half minute long program, take a one-minute break, then do it again — a taxing workout he could only do every couple of weeks.
"We call it the wall, and you've got to push it, you've got to push that limit all the time that you're always up against it, and it always feels like you're working out in molasses," Stojko said. "After you've done training like that, the wall moves. And it's hard."
As Stojko explained in a lengthy interview Sunday, competition is much tougher on the body than practice. Nerves and anticipation push the heart rate up.
"What happens to any of us when we have anxiety? You're exhausted and you haven't even done anything. Times that by 10 in this environment," said Stojko, who credits his background in martial arts for his approach to sport.
"The stress level you're under drains the tank that much faster. So when you're competing at that high level, and trying all the quads and everything, your tank needs to be larger than at a normal practice."
Chan, who's also a three-time world champ, planned to discuss the double run-through idea with his coach Marina Zoueva. They also plan to explore meditation and breathing exercises.
Stojko has been outspoken about the direction of men's skating, writing a scathing column for Yahoo at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics under the headline "The night they killed figure skating." He was angry that Evan Lysacek of the U.S. won gold with no quad.
Sport embracing big jumps again
He's thrilled the sport is embracing the big jumps again.
"I think it's awesome," said Stojko, who was working in Mississauga as Skate Canada's ambassador. "People say the sport's going too gymnastics. But if you take out the jumps and you limit the guys, then it just becomes a recital. You've got the art form, but you need that athletic side to blend them together. To have a clear-cut winner, you've got to have that technical side."
He pointed to Duhamel and Radford. The two-time world champs added a throw quad Salchow last season, then a throw triple Axel this year.
"It's going to keep them one step ahead," Stojko said. "They're not going to rely on the judges to say the artistic is better than everybody else. They're not going to rest on that and say 'I hope they pick us."'
Critics argue the focus on the quads is hard on the skaters' bodies.
"Look at hockey. Look at football. Look at all these other sports where they push the body," Stojko said. "People come to watch that excitement. If you take all the quads out, you're going to see a lot of perfect performances, but it's going to end up being boring again."
The 25-year-old Chan is embracing the big jumps — if only by necessity.
"We're going to keep pushing the boundary," he said. "But something's got to give, either you'll have skaters who won't last very long due to injury, or the component/presentation side starts getting affected.
"But it's cool to see these guys pushing the boundaries, I'm in awe. It's going to be interesting to sit back and see where it does top out, where it does suffer."