What does the victory mean? That you've done everything right!
World champion is a big deal for any sportsmen. But the current one in the men figure skating is a special case. Patrick Chan managed to turn everyone against him claiming not long before the Olympics in Vancouver the jumps were not the most important thing in his sport, but then turned the haters into the lovers by performing the quadruple jumps in both of his programmes this season. It's impossible not to admire the Canadian seeing how he works on the ice and yet realise the verb `work' is wrong when talking of something so inspiring or Chan himself.
This must be what the cosmic size talent looks like.
Frankly - I wasn't going to interview the champion in Moscow: right after the men competition the pairs began and I had enough on my plate. But coming to the mixed zone when the best group began I was surprised to find a bored lonely Patrick Chan there. Not to approach him would be rude.
EV: Patrick, I know how hard it is to put a new jump into the programme and for how long it messes the other elements. At least I've seen it for many years happening to the best skaters. And then you show up with your quad and do it so easily as if it was a computer game and you just pressed a key to replace one element with another. How do you do that?
PC: It's a result of a hard work really. Back home in Colorado Springs I've been doing the run thoughts every day almost from the beginning of the season. The SP with the quad in a combination and two quads in the LP. I mean the real run through -with no stops, no missing the elements when tired.
It was obvious from the very beginning the quad would cause some problems. Hence I was trying to do everything within my power to make the impact as minor as possible. At the same time during the practises I would imagine skating in the Olympics, where you have to have everything under control, including your breathing. It was thanks to the quads I started mentioning the breathing. For example in Moscow after I did my second quad and heard the audience go crazy I took a deep breath, then exhaled, made sure the breathing was ok and all of the sudden I felt very calm. It was yet another example that if the breathing is under control everything else also will be. No matter what is going on around and how loud the crowd is.
EV: Who taught you that?
PC: I think it was Cathy Jonson the first person who I've heard it from - my modern dance teacher. She've been in the modern dance her whole life and when she started working with me the first thing she explained is how should I breath so I wouldn't be out of breath no matter how fast the tempo is. Of course I ran it through my coach Cristy Crall and she confirmed Cathy knew what she was talking about and I should listen to her.
And then, eventually, I heard something of the similar kind from Brian Boitano. He told me he payed a lot of attention to breathing. And it helps very much to concentrate in the stressful situation. You have to agree it would be silly not to listen to three such specialists.
EV: When did you first attempt to add a quad in the programme?
PC: In Skate Canada Grand Prix last autumn. I tried it in the practises, even though it didn't work. But in Skate Canada my coach and I decided to include a quad in both the SP and the LP. I fell in the SP and was left without the combination, even though I rotated the revolutions. But in the LP I was able to land the quad.
That competition was a wonderful experience. First of all I realised, that doing a quad in the practises and doing the same in the competition are completely different things. The difference is enormous. It's impossible to explain without trying yourself. During the practise you only concentrate on the technical aspect of the jump. During the competition you also have to listen to the music and follow it, the crowd's reaction which is never predictable, the own stress... I'm thrilled that out of 3 quad attempts in Moscow all 3 were successful. But it doesnt' mean I solved my quad issue once and for all. There are still many details that I need to improve to be really consistent. I have just started.
EV: At what point during the season you realised that the thing to help you with the quad is the right breathing?
PC: I certainly didn't think of that in Grand Prix in Canada, while in Moscow... yes, guess it was when I started wondering how to make the quad more consistent (in the Grand Prix in Moscow Chan performed a perfect combination with a quad in the SP, but the LP quad was underotated). In the GPF I was concentrating on breathing much more.
EV: Did a negative experience in the Grand Prix make you wonder whether the quad in both programmes is worth the effort?
PC: No. Both in Canada and Moscow I saw how my components remain high despite the fall and it pushed me forward. And experimenting with the breathing proved to be working.
EV: You mean skating became physically easier?
PC: Not exactly. It is indeed easier to perform when breathing correctly since the muscles receive the needed oxygen faster and as a result remain fresh longer.
It's not too important for me - during the season I spend most of the time very high so the endurance is not a problem for me. It's more about the discipline: when the breathing is under control (especially after the 2nd quad in the LP) I can just feel how the stiffness from the back goes, the shoulders become loose, I feel my footwork much better.
EV: Were you ever so nervous that your body went out of control?
PC: Many times. And mostly not so long ago. Last season, for example. Can phrase it better - it always happened, the last season included. I think my looks project the lack of nerves. I heard the people who surround me saying more than once `Chan? He is never nervous!' If only they knew what I was going through on the championships just a year ago they would be surprised.
The worst were the Olympics in Vancouver. When taking the ice there I felt like a suicidal who decided to jump from the bridge but can't make that last step. I was chocking, I lacked oxygen, the vision went dark, I couldn't hear and it only became worse by the end of the programme. It was then that I started thinking if I don't learn to switch my attention to something else during the competition I might not end well for me.
EV: Even before Pluschenko became an Olympic champion in Turin he said he'd love to became the first skater who would perform all 6 quads. What about you?
PC: I can only say that except for the toeloop and Salchow I was performing this season I plan to learn another quad. Either flip or lutz.
EV: Were you inspired by Takahashi who tried to do a quad flip in his LP last year in Turin?
PC: The idea, of course, was his. After I came back form Turin to Colorado Springs I asked the guys who I train on the same ice with which quad except for the toeloop they think I can land. They all named Lutz and flip. Now I just have to decide which would be easier for me and make a choice.
EV: In other words you are ready to complicate the content of your programmes?
PC: Sure. but only till the jumps are not effecting the other elements. The spins, steps, transitions are equally important and there is a chance this is what the crowd and the judges enjoy the most, so I'm not going to sacrifice that.
EV: You are just about the only skater who manages to perform the hardest jump without skating across the ice rink but from the steps. Whose idea was it to choreograph the programme so unexpectedly?
PC: My first coach's - Osborne Colson (he died in 2006 aged 90). When I just started skating in his group Colson forbade me doing any jumps for the first 2-3 weeks. He wanted to see what can I do on my legs.
I was doing various steps, learning the new ones, improved the balance, kept the high speed during the steps, payed alot of attention to the edges, invented new step combinations. I can now say that if it wasn't for mr. Colson I would never find out what can I do with the blade.
Those trainings were a great base. The older and the more experienced I become, the more coaches and choreographers worked with me - the more solid the base becomes. The jumps are only part of it.
EV: Do you think of your late coach much?
PC: Before going to Russia I spent a weekend in Toronto. While waiting for the next flight I went to a cemetery where he is buried. I sat there for a while and talked to him. I loved talking to him when he was alive and I remember how he would mumble `A day will come when an Asian skater will become a champion'. He never mentioned my name, but it was easy to guess whom he meant. It's so weird t o recall now. He died 5 years ago, yet all he predicted came true.
EV: More than 20 points gap between you and the next skater- is it a lot or not?
PC: I think it's enough for those who behind me to think what can they improve. Which elements to learn, which programmes parts to polish. But the thing is that I'm not going to stop here and watch them work. Even now I have lots of plans and thoughts how to be become better. It's the quad flit that I mentioned before and the new programmes. No matter how many titles have you won - the most important thing is to keep the ability to start working from the scratch,
I mean something simple. Lets say till today I won several Grand Prix, but if I had to take the ice with a thought to keep the title no matter what I would probably go crazy. Hence I think only that a new competition is indeed a new competition. New rivals, new environment, new feelings on the ice. The most important thing for me is to remain healthy so I don't leave the game too early. The Moscow championship was an example - both on and off the ice I did what I had to do, kept my emotions under control and gained the needed result even though I wasn't feeling 100% well.
EV: yes, you said in the mixed zone you won in not your best day.
PC: Indeed the final day I was not feeling so well. But now I have that experience as well. It says that any pain is possible to overcome if not putting it on the top. Another reason was that it was in Moscow I grew up in my point of view. I mean - victory is kind of a proof that you've done right. You came to the ice, gave things up, or put two quads in the LP. Now I can admit I was not sure at all about that decision. Many people told me 2 quads in the LP are unjustified risk. So it wasn't an easy decision.
Now I realise had I not included two quads I would spend much more things wondering and thinking.
EVL You talk quite much about being psychologically stable.
PC: It's more important for me than the other things. I'm easily distracted, it's important for me to be happy, to smile, to be in a good mood. So the atmosphere of the big competition, where everyone is concentrated on themselves and very serious is not comfortable for me to begin with. To make it more comfortable I have to put my thoughts and emotions in order.It's a big deal actually.
EV: In the LP you were going first in your group. Did you have a chance to see the skaters who went after you?
PC: Only Takahashi.
EV: Were you shocked by his blade accident?
PC: Not really. Of course Dai was very unlucky and I'm sorry that happened, but the equipment is part of our sport. You should always keep in mind something unexpected might happen on the ice. With the skates, with the boots. If the skater is working the whole season for that moment he should take care of the equipment as well. I have a person responsible for the state of my skates but I check every little detail myself as well. If something looks suspicious I will not let the specialists get rid of me till I'm convinced. Otherwise - what all this work for?