Chan sets new world record in short program
Canadian scores 93.02 at figure skating championships to best Plushenko mark
A clear head, a clean performance — and perhaps a few games of Old Maid — are all that stands between Canada's Patrick Chan and his first world title.
The 20-year-old from Toronto laid down a dazzling world-record performance in the short program Wednesday in Moscow in his bid for the crown, building a lead so large that one of his competitors said it might take "a miracle" to beat him.
Now, it's all about keeping his wits about him.
"I think for me, being a very fun and easily distracted skater, it's very important for me to stay focused on my goals," said Chan, who played a couple of quick Old Maid card games with his coach Christy Krall moments before taking the ice — a tactic the two have adopted to counter the pressure.
Then, skating to the smooth jazz stylings of Paul Desmond's Take Five, Chan compiled a world-record score of 93.02, opening with a picture-perfect quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination, followed by a huge triple Axel.
"I was really proud of myself," said Chan, who celebrated with a double fist-pump at centre ice. "I was really quite nervous today, I think because the event had been postponed, all the events that took place prior to it made it a special world championship … I was very happy to keep it together mentally and do what I do in practice, to be able to translate it into competition was a very tough task.
"It was a very big relief for me to be able to achieve something in these circumstances."
Chan takes a huge 12-point lead — he would need a near-meltdown not to win gold — into Friday's free program after Japan's Nobunari Oda was second with a score of 81.81.
Defending world champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan was third with 80.25, prompting laughter at the post-skate news conference when asked what it will take to topple the Canadian.
"Maybe [Friday] there will be a different wind, I don't know, there might be a miracle, we'll see," said Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic silver medallist.
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., sits 19th with a score of 64.36, while Joey Russell of Labrador City, N.L., is 21st with 61.69.
The hours before Friday's free program will be a delicate balancing act for Chan between maintaining his focus on skating and keeping the mood light. Humour works well.
"Jokes. We make a lot of jokes," Chan said through a wide grin. "One she told me was: 'Forgive your enemies, but remember the bastard's name.' Or: 'Money can't buy you happiness, but it's much easier to cry in a Mercedes Benz than on a bicycle.'
"It's just little quirky things like that, it keeps it fun and keeps your mind off things because in times like this it's easy to get mentally drained."
Chan was all business when he went on the ice, en route to lowering the previous world mark of 91.30, set by Russian Evgeni Plushenko at the 2010 European championships.
"It's cool to have a world record," Chan said. "To be able to achieve that is a dream come true."
Plushenko, who's not competing this season, was in the crowd at the Megasport Arena to see his record fall.
"He was a hero to me when I was younger, I used to watch him all the time on TV, for him to be here and watch me skate like that, it's a big physical and mental boost for me," Chan said.
Chan's rise up the ranks this season is due largely to adding the quad jump to his repertoire. He was already a cut above the competition in his artistry, and his spins and footwork, before the four-revolution jump propelled him to an entirely new level of skating. He landed his first in competition at Skate Canada in October, then claimed his first international victory at the Grand Prix Final in December, making him the man to beat here.
His quad earned him 16.26 points Thursday, while Oda stepped out of his quad attempt for just 7.87 points. Takahashi didn't attempt a quad.
Chan has found himself in a war of words with a couple of skaters, including Plushenko, over the quad in the past — the Canadian used to argue that he didn't need one to win. Wednesday, Chan was happy to show off his new skill.
"I know [Plushenko] is a big pusher for quad jumps and I respect his expression of that, and I hope I can be a good skater in his eyes as well," Chan said.
Chan was competing for the first time in three months, including a roller-coaster last few weeks that saw the world championships postponed and finally relocated in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northeastern Japan.
The event had originally been slated to open March 21 in Tokyo, and there had been concern it would be cancelled altogether before the International Skating Union finally determined it would be held in Moscow.
Krall, Chan's coach since just prior to the Vancouver Olympics where he finished fifth, used the same lighthearted manner through the extended season.
"We have tried to make his practices very interesting, very fun," Krall said. "We try to keep him light on his thinking, light on his feet. I prescribe a training schedule for him every day that's got some sort of a challenge inside of it and makes him laugh. That's the way we operate, have a good time with him."
Some practices, Krall would have Chan pick cards to determine the order of the jumps he would do at practice, and they could range anywhere from a simple "bunny hop" — one of the first things a child learns at skating — to a quad jump.
"The bunny hops are always the funniest," Chan laughed. "She likes to mix it up, it makes it more interesting."
The coach and skater each has a jar of quarters at his practices in Colorado Springs, Colo., and they bet on whether he'll land a jump or not.
Who's pot is bigger?
"Mr. Chan," Krall said. "You better believe it. His pot of quarters is busting."
Chan's previous best short program score was 88.90 he set at the 2009 Four Continents Championships.
The Canadian recorded a world's best mark at this season's Canadian championships in January, but it wasn't recognized by the International Skating Union as official because it was in a domestic event.
Chan is poised to make it official here. Takahashi holds the overall world record of 175.84, set in 2008.
"Since the [Grand Prix] Final, [Chan] has just got stronger all season, building to this time," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director. "It's always great to see a performance like that. I'm glad it's our skater, but it's just great to see that. It shows how the bar keeps getting raised."