World champion Patrick Chan knows that success lies with rhythm, finding patterns in his steps and patterns in his breathing.
On Saturday night, at Skate Canada he struggled to find his rhythm in a long program that is so complex that a foot wrong here or there could send the whole thing crashing like tipped dominoes.
Chan stumbled, but did not allow his program to crash.
That allowed the 20-year-old Torontonian, dressed in brilliant red and black, to win Skate Canada with 253.74 points, 3.41 points ahead of the upstart Spaniard Javier Fernandez who took the silver medal. Chan was almost 16 points ahead of former world champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, who seriously underrotated a quad flip and stuttered through a few more jumps.
Adam Rippon of the United States tried to make history by trying to become the first in a Grand Prix event to land a quad Lutz, but he under rotated it and finished fourth overall.
Fellow American Brandon Mroz was credited last week with landing the first quad Lutz in competition in an unusual move by the International Skating Union, which usually ratifies or recognizes ground-breaking jumps in its own sanctioned events, in front of international judges. Mroz landed the jump in a local U.S. competition, but the ISU ratified it anyway.
As for Chan, he knew something was awry when he fell on his first of two quadruple toe loops in the long program on Saturday. He felt fine, he said. It was a better attempt than in the short program, when he slid off his edge, confused by the speed of the ice and his patterns that shrank with the smaller NHL-sized rink. No such problems this time, he said.
Still, he went down, to the gasp of the crowd.
Fortunately, he rotated his first quad fully, so he still earned 7.59 points out of the 10.30 points that a quadruple toe loop is worth.
He then had the presence of mind to turn his second quad into a combination jump that included a triple toe loop. That was worth 16.11 points alone.
But the lesson Chan learned on a rocky night in Mississauga was that he still doesn't have control of either his breathing or his complex choreographic patterns in his new long program to Concierto de Aranjuez.
Last year, he won the world title with the Phantom of the Opera routine, but it was the second season he had used it, and he had all of the choreographic patterns memorized like they were second nature. Last season, for the first time, he started to learn about breathing patterns, on the advice of his movement coach Kathy Johnson.
According to Chan, he breaths out when he bends his knees and breathes in when he rises. It makes him feel lighter. Because of it, he doesn't sit back on his heels. He's more balanced over the blade. On Saturday, he couldn't find that rhythm.
There is a point in his program where he clicks his heels, but on Saturday, he knew right away that his click was a lot smaller than what he usually does. "It usually has a nice lift to it," he said.
"It's like I'm trying to do all these things at once, in one basket, trying to mix it all together for the perfect recipe," he said. "It's a lot to do in one competition."
Chan has such complex transitions between elements – he doesn't ever take a single skating stroke – but it makes it exceedingly difficult to land the jumps. He accomplished the near impossible, when he took a pratfall on one of his transitions, just before a difficult three-jump combination. He picked himself off and managed to land the first part of it, a triple Lutz. His grit throughout the program earned him a standing ovation.
"I just love how the program weaves endlessly and smoothly from one jump to the other. It makes the program feel short to me."
He may alter some of the patterns as the season continues. "I'm not super human," he said.
Chan has to watch Takahashi and Fernandez skate after him, but he said he wasn't disturbed about whether they'd pull out and pass him or not, after he'd left the door wide open.
"There comes a time when winning isn't the everything," Chan said. "It's a bonus. The medal wasn't really a big deal to me."
He does have a goal to make it to the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City in December, but it doesn't matter how he does it, he says. It doesn't have to be pretty.
While Chan is expected to make it to the Grand Prix Final, Fernandez is only discovering that he has a very good chance of making it for the first time. The silver medal he won is the first by a Spaniard in an ISU competition. He landed two quads in the long program. Chan said they were so easy, they looked like triples.
The achievement will spur him on, said Fernandez . 'The competition is going to help me so much to keep going every day," he said. "I'm going to try to work more hard. I actually have no choice. I have to do it.'
Coach Brian Orser says Fernandez is his own person who doesn't always make it to his sessions on time, and doesn't always do as many run-throughs of programs as he should. He said Fernandez needs to get more fit. "He has his own style," Orser said. "But as long as we get the job done, it doesn't matter."
When he consults the Spanish federation about some of the skater's shortcomings, they tell Orser: "Well, he's Spanish."
Orser told Fernandez after he won the short program that his life would change. On Friday, when they came to the rink, the cameramen waited until they walked by before they swung their cameras on Chan and Takahashi. On Saturday morning, the cameras followed Fernandez.
But Fernandez had never been in the position of being in first place going into the long program and experiencing the pressure that would put on him.
'My legs were shaking in my program today," Fernandez said. "I was pretty nervous before, but I think I did the best I can. We're doing good work. I am so happy to be here today."