About to skate in front of a Canadian crowd just over a year away from the 2014 Winter Games, Patrick Chan can feel the Olympic build-up starting to bloom. Even if his last visit to Sochi, Russia, the next Olympic host city, was not very enjoyable.
Starting defence of his national title on Friday, so close to his hometown of Toronto, the reigning world champion senses Olympic fever starting to build in Canada. He recently skated to bronze in the Grand Prix Final, held at the Sochi Olympic venue. Although he got ill from the food there, he enjoyed seeing the Olympic atmosphere taking shape – the rink and village under construction, Russia getting excited to host. Chan, now 22, wants to win gold there and knows how differently he will approach his second Games. A bright spotlight followed the youngster to Vancouver, where he finished fifth. Although 2014 won't be a home Olympics, he knows attention and expectations are set to frame him once again.
"It will help knowing and expecting it next time," said Chan on Thursday after his practice session at the Canadian Tire national figure skating championships. "Back in 2010, I was like 'This is amazing,' I have never done anything like this, things like spending entire days in studios filming. I was like 18. I'm a lot more comfortable and expecting it now."
Chan has won the last two world championships and is now trying to win his sixth national senior title just months before the world figure skating championships come to London, Ont. But it hasn't been his finest season. The bronze in Sochi was surprising and disappointing, so was silver at Skate Canada International. It was his first season with a new coach and choreographers.
He enlisted some choreography help from the man he beat out to win his first national title in 2008: three-time Canadian champ and Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle. The 30-year-old retired skater choreographed the short program Chan is currently skating.
"I beat him in 2008 for the national championship, and that was a defining moment in my life, and he was a big part of it," Chan said. "He wasn't just one of those competitors that just came in and just did his thing and left and didn't talk to anyone. He was always so vocal. I really admired his skating and learned to appreciate it. I wanted to see what it was like to have a taste of that. He's a genius on the ice."
In an age when skaters are required to pack so many different elements and combinations into a program, Buttle worked to build a more simplified one for Chan. He built movements in that allowed Chan to "have a moment."
"He may not have had the great start to the season he wanted, but I think he's going to peak at the right moment with nationals and worlds," Buttle said. "He's allowing himself to be influenced by the music, and he is handling pressure with more maturity as he's getting older, yet he still has that youthfulness that makes him a great skater. I think it will be really evident when he skates in Sochi."
Chan had a good laugh Thursday about his last trip to Sochi – staying at a hotel that reminded him of the horror film The Shining and greasy-pre-skate food that gave him big stomach trouble before competition. He felt he skated well there, considering. Arriving at the Vancouver Games had felt like Christmas morning. His 2014 trip to Sochi will be enjoyable, but he will have the tools to make that Olympics feel like any other competition.
"I'm starting to feel it building here at home. It's always on the back of my mind, more-so every day," said Chan. "You have to get smart and not get overwhelmed by the pressure of the Olympics, as opposed to enjoying the thought of being there and doing your very best at the Olympics, which would hopefully be bringing home gold."