The Gangneung Ice Arena, where the Olympic figure skating events are being contested, may need to stock up on coffee.
With the figure skating events at the Pyeongchang Olympics all scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time to ensure the competitions can be seen during prime time in North America, the skaters find themselves not only battling their opponents, but also the clock.
Patrick Chan got his first taste of the uncharacteristically early schedule on Friday when he was first up for Canada in the team figure skating event. Though his 10:48 a.m. start in the men's short program didn't seem that uncivilized, it actually meant the former three-time world champion was up at 5 a.m. to go through a condensed version of his routine. First he squeezed in a shortened practice before rushing back across town to the athletes village to scarf down some oatmeal and relax, if only for 20 minutes, watching part of an episode of Friends, before heading back to the rink to get ready for the competition.
The result, Chan admits, was a subpar performance where he stumbled on two of his most critical jumps. While that might have killed him at other competitions, several other skaters also appeared to be fighting the early start. Despite Chan's struggles, he emerged relatively unscathed to finish in third place, thanks to other top skaters falling as well.
A strong skate later in the day by pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford helped push the Canadians into first place after Day One of the three-day team competition. Duhamel and Radford placed second in the pairs short program.
"None of us have skated this early," Chan said of the men's event. "I think more than anything [it] was just the quick turnaround from the morning practice to the competition… It just felt a little more frantic."
Figure skaters are used to skating late into the evening at most international competitions, using the bulk of their day, to prepare for their nighttime competitions. But because his practice session was held so early – more than two hours before sunrise in Pyeongchang – Chan decided to avoid attempting any complex jumps during the morning workout, knowing his muscles wouldn't respond as well as they typically would later in the day. That sent him into the team competition colder than he would've liked.
"Not to say it's a bad thing, or I'm mad about it, not at all," Chan said. "I trained for this. I prepared for this."
Chan, a veteran of three Olympics, was not alone in the struggle to adjust. American Nathan Chen, who last year became the only skater to land five quads in competition during his long program, also fell while attempting a quad in the team event and popped the landing on another of his jumps. "A little rough," Chen said of skating in the morning. "But it is what it is."
Chan's score of 81.66 points put him in third place behind Japan's Shoma Uno (103.25) and Israel's Alexie Bychenko (88.49). Chen was in fourth with 80.61 points.
In the team event, the top finisher in each discipline is awarded 10 points, with second place earning 9 points, third getting 8, and so on. The country with the most points at the end of the third day wins the gold medal. Chan's 8 points, and the 9 points earned by Duhamel and Radford, who had a score of 76.57, give Canada 17 points after the first day, putting them in first place. The Americans sit second with 14 points, and the Russians and Japanese skaters are tied for third, with 13. The team competition resumes Sunday with the ice dance and women's short programs and the pairs free skate, and concludes on Monday with the remaining long programs.
Some skaters shrugged off the schedule change. Duhamel and Radford, whose start time came just after 1 p.m., said it didn't bother them to compete earlier in the day than they normally would. Duhamel said they often train in the morning in Canada.
"Right now, we skate midmorning…. But we've run programs before 7:00 in the morning at home. So this is nothing, it feels normal," Duhamel said.
When Chan and his coach learned the schedule in Pyeongchang would be geared towards the U.S. TV audience, resulting in earlier starts, they reworked his training schedule.
"As much as I hated it, we planned three days a week for two weeks of early practices. They were great; they were really helpful," Chan said, adding that this week's experience should help him better prepare for his individual skates.
One aspect he hopes to improve upon before his next event is making sure he has a meal prepared between his early morning workout and the competition, knowing how tight the schedule will be. "At least I had today's experience and it will help down the road," Chan said.