When Patrick Chan stepped away from competing after the Sochi Olympics, the three-time world figure skating champion could never have known how drastically the sport would change.
Skating’s young stars were suddenly reeling off huge quadruple jumps with the unfettered ease of kids playing hopscotch. Chan has been forced to try to follow suit.
The 26-year-old from Toronto will make what could be his final world championship appearance in Finland this week. And days away from taking the ice at Helsinki’s Hartwell Arena, Chan was asked: has his comeback been worth it?
“That’s where the sports psych (Scott Goldman) has been very helpful,” Chan said. “We have those conversations where it’s: OK, yes, it does get to a point where it’s so frustrating. I feel like I’m running as fast as I can but they’re just creeping away from me.
“It doesn’t help seeing other people having success, being in the spot that I used to be in. But what’s important is identifying just what is pure emotion, reaction, from your own mind, and what is actually something that you need to improve on. So immediately after Four Continents, very frustrated. But then I took that frustration and thought about a plan of attack to prepare for worlds.”
That plan was to rejig the order of his jumps â€” he’ll open with back-to-back quads â€” in hopes he’ll have better success landing them.
Chan took a season off after his heartbreaking silver medal in Sochi. When he returned, skating’s landscape was practically unrecognizable.
At Four Continents last month, American teenage sensation Nathan Chen reeled off a jaw-dropping five quads in the long program for the first time in history.
“I was not expecting (how much the sport would advance),” Chan said. “I thought Yuzu (Hanyu, the Olympic champion) in 2014 in Sochi really had pushed the limit and was hitting that limit. Clearly that’s been proven wrong.”
Chan now has three quads in his long program, but has yet to land all three in an international competition. Still, his far-from-flawless long program at Four Continents was only 25 points off the torrid pace Chen set â€” a testament to the Canadian’s exquisite skating skills.
Chan worries, however, about the toll the sky-high quads might take on young skaters’ bodies. Quad jumps â€” four revolutions completed in somewhere between six and seven tenths of a second â€” generate significant G-forces, and the landing has the force of seven times a skater’s body weight.
“The pro is the excitement of all these quads being completed,” he said. “The con is kind of the mystery of what is going to be the byproduct of pushing the limit technically and pushing the body to the limit, when it comes to torque and joint pressure. .. all these scientific possibilities.
“That’s something that we can only find in two, three, four years from now, what kind of damage, or no damage we’re doing to our bodies.”
Generally regarded as among the best overall skaters on the planet â€” his high component scores are proof â€” Chan laments the loss of elements such as spins, transitions, and artistry that comes with the focus on the quad.
“I don’t care what anybody says, I know for sure from my experience that when it comes to adding more quads. . . the choreography, the transitions, the skating skills get sacrificed, 100 per cent. I guarantee it,” he said. “Now does that make me shy away from pushing myself technically? No, not at all. I have to go with the direction of what the sport is going in, which is dictated by the top men’s skaters, top two, three men in the world right now.
“I can only control what I can bring to the ice. And maybe that’s being able to combine the difficulty of the quads with really great transitions and skating skills.”
He has come to a place of acceptance when it comes to quad. His best option was to look at the four-revolution jumps as a new challenge.
“It’s exciting for me because I’m kind of exploring the unknown,” Chan said. “I’m seeing how far I can take myself technically, see if I can finally achieve the ultimate goal of skating a great short program and long program, hopefully on the right day. And that’s it. That’s all I can ask myself to do.
“Already it’s been exciting because after Sochi in 2014 I never thought I could add another different quad, from a quad toe, let alone train it fulltime. So already I’ve surprised myself.”
Chan is one world title shy of Kurt Browning’s Canadian record of four world titles. The men’s short program is Thursday and the long program is Saturday.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press