Skating felt foreign, self-doubt had crept in, and Patrick Chan admits he started to panic.
So the 22-year-old from Toronto up and moved to Detroit three weeks before the world figure skating championships – a decision that may have puzzled a few, but by all appearances didn’t hurt him at all.
The two-time world champion delivered a 6.0 practice Monday ahead of the world championships that begin Wednesday, landing a textbook quadruple toe loop and triple Axel, and looking stronger than he has in a long time.
“I was very uneasy, no confidence, very low self-esteem – which is really odd for a two-time world champion. There was something wrong . . . something off the ice, just not being happy where I am,” Chan said about where his skating was a few months ago.
“I definitely was panicking a little bit because I wasn’t skating as I normally was. I couldn’t find my stride. I just felt like I was a step behind every time I tried to do something. The reason it took me so long to figure out was I wasn’t sure, I thought maybe I’m not training well enough? Maybe I’m not mentally tough enough? It was really puzzling.”
A world victory this week would make Chan the first male skater to win three in a row since Russian Alexei Yagudin (1998-2000). But more importantly, it would confirm the Canadian is back on track less than a year out from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
He had been off-track for most of the season.
Chan said the move to Detroit was suggested by a few people close to him, and came on the heels of a frustrating season that saw him lose for the first time after going undefeated for nearly a year and a half. He finished runner-up at Skate Canada International and third at the Grand Prix Final.
“It’s an obvious result that going to a different place just for the three weeks before worlds was a good choice just for a change,” said Chan, whose coach Kathy Johnson accompanied him to Detroit. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s permanent. It just needed to change, I just needed a kick-start in my life, my skating life.”
Chan oozed cool on Monday. His run-through of his short program to music by Rachmaninoff looked better than he’s skated it in competition this season, and brought the crowd of about 1,000 fans at Budweiser Gardens to its feet.
“I just stepped out there and had confidence, wasn’t stressed, wasn’t hesitant, just going with the flow of my skating,” he said.
While Chan’s move to Detroit isn’t permanent – he has a house, a car and friends in Colorado Springs, Colo. – he might make it so. Chan said he wasn’t feeling good about the atmosphere at the rink in Colorado.
“There’s tons of kids (in Detroit) who are just there having a good time, it just relieves the pressure, it makes me go out to practice on my session and have fun, and go out with a smile,” he said.
Chan said a victory will prove he can overcome the hardships he’s faced this season – “come to the big competition and nail it on the right day at the right event, and the important event.”
The Canadian will face stiff competition however from Japanese skaters Daisuke Takahashi, the reigning world runner-up, and Yuzuru Hanyu, the world bronze medallist.
Javier Fernandez of Spain, who lives in Toronto and trains with former world champion Brian Orser, has the season’s best score, and has landed three quad jumps in his free program twice already this season.
Canada’s ice dance darlings Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir would love to repeat as world champions in their hometown, and in what could be their final appearance at the event.
But it won’t be easy. The Olympic gold medallists face fierce competition from their American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The U.S. team edged Virtue and Moir for gold at the Four Continents championships last month in Japan.
Virtue and Moir, who could take a pass on next year’s world championships and retire after the Sochi Olympics, are rebounding from a disappointing Four Continents that saw the two stop their free dance when Virtue developed cramps in her leg.
The two also have yet to see the scores the want for their sultry free dance, set to “Carmen.” They’re keeping fingers crossed they’ll see them in London.
“Tessa and I really did try to set out this year and make an ambitious program,” Moir said. “We thought we were very successful in achieving that goal, but it can be frustrating, especially early in the season, when you go out and compete. I guess the sign of a really tough program and a good program is that it might not get rewarded right away.
“This is the time of year when that starts to pay off. We feel like now we’ve been doing these tricks for awhile they’re kind of in our back pocket.”
Kaetlyn Osmond, a 17-year-old from Marystown, N.L., is Canada’s lone entry in a women’s singles field marked by the return of Korean star Kim Yu-na. The 2010 Olympic gold medallist hasn’t competed internationally since the 2011 world championships.
Four-time and reigning world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany are the favourites to claim the pairs title. Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., are on the rise, winning last month’s Four Continents title.
The men’s and women’s winners earn US$45,000 for a victory, while the pairs and ice dance teams split $67,500 for a gold medal.
Canada has hosted the world championships nine previous times, most recently in Calgary in 2006.