Patrick Chan to face rivals old and new at Skate Canada
Canada's former figure skating champion has new focus, but will it help him win?
The fruits of Patrick Chan's year-long break from competition will face their first true test when he returns to Grand Prix competition on Friday at Skate Canada International in Lethbridge, Alta.
Old and new rivals will be there, including Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, who beat Chan to win gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and 17-year-old Nam Nguyen, who won silver at last year's Skate Canada and succeeded Chan as national champion.
If Chan is right, the year is exactly what will separate him from the rest of the field.
"What I've heard through the channels is that there's something missing and there wasn't much spark [in men's skating last year,]" Chan, 24, told CBC Sports.
"People did great programs," he said, citing world champion Javier Fernandez, of Spain. "But there's just something ... that was missing and I think that becomes my advantage in certain situations and certain competitions.
"But I've been gone for a year. Who knows how I'll handle a Grand Prix? There are all these unknown things that can maybe affect me mentally or physically, I don't know."
One of those unknowns will be the performance of Nguyen. Though the 17-year-old has called Chan "one of my idols," he's determined not to lose ground on what he accomplished last season.
"His skating skills and his performances are incredible," Nguyen said. "Now that he's saying I'm his equal, it's such a huge honour and also a huge motivation for me to continue working harder and showing him my best performances.
"I know I can defend my national title," he said. "I know I should be able to at least either podium at the Grand Prix or at least come close to podium. I am capable of coming top 10 or even higher in the world."
Nguyen calls his short program, to the soundtrack to The Killing Fields, "a little bit challenging" but something he's looking forward to tackling.
"I've never skated to something so deep and on a very high maturity level and so it will be a little bit difficult," he said.
Chan unveiled his new short program — to Michael Buble's version of Mack the Knife — at a minor competition in Quebec.
I'm just there to do my job. I'm not going to ask myself to do something that I haven't been training.- Patrick Chan, Olympic figure skating silver medallist
"I get chills just thinking about the program," Chan told CBC Sports. "I think one of the first things people will notice is that the fun I'm having on the ice is actually genuine, and it makes them want to watch more, and kind of bring joy out of everyone."
He's aware of the junior skaters moving their way up into the senior ranks, but puts distance between himself and the pressure they seem to be putting on themselves to perform and compete.
"Watching them is almost looking at me in the past," he said. "You could actually see the pressure on their shoulders, and [them] maybe really thinking, like, it's life or death; whereas I'm just there to do my job. I'm not going to ask myself to do something that I haven't been training."
Chan has eased himself back into competing by skating in a couple of smaller events, including the Japan Open where he had "a banana-peel slip" just seconds into his long program, and then didn't land a quad. He finished third.
"I was nervous and wasn't comfortable in the competition environment anymore," he said. "I have to get back into the world of competitive skating as opposed to show skating. It's very different, and the only way to get better at it, and to get more comfortable, is to keep competing."
With files from The Canadian Press