TORONTO – It was surprising news, and perhaps no one was caught off guard more than Patrick Chan.
Just weeks before this figure skating season was set to open, Chan’s coach Kathy Johnson announced she was resigning. The news in August was an “extremely huge shock,” the three-time world champion said.
But now that the dust has started to settle, Chan looks back with gratitude at his four years with Johnson, and with excitement about the months to come with new coach Marina Zoueva.
“Kathy and I had a very close relationship, but that can sometimes be very dangerous as well,” Chan said in a recent phone interview. “Eyes on me all the time. . . over time conversations were hard to have, and it was hard to distinguish the lines between training and my life.
“But I will never change anything that happened because Kathy has taught me so much about things beyond skating, about being a man, about how to be independent. She pushed me in the right direction to be a good person, and to find myself really, and to do it properly.”
Zoueva guided Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Olympic and world titles. Chan is training with a group that includes American hot shot Nathan Chen in Canton, Mich.
It was Zoueva, a former Russian ice dancer, who encouraged Chan to reach out to Johnson, to “try to mend the bridge, not burn my bridge with Kathy.”
Chan opened the season just over a week ago at the Finlandia Trophy, where Chen won gold and Chan took the silver. Chan, who is continuing his comeback after taking the 2014-15 season off, said he was more nervous in Finland about his new relationship with Zoueva than he was about competing.
He needn’t have worried.
“You can just tell that Marina has so much experience with Olympic champions, world champions, she just knows how to handle a competition situation, just super calm, knows when to tell me to do something specific, and when to just let me get through the moment myself, and figure it out myself,” Chan said. “How things have worked out, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect situation to be honest.”
The 25-year-old from Toronto will compete at next week’s Skate Canada International at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont., as his quest for an Olympic title continues.
After his heartbreaking silver-medal performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, he took a season off to ponder his future. He then returned to find the sport had changed in his absence, and some of the high flyers such as Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu had left him behind. The focus on the quad jump had never been so acute.
Chan believes training with Chen can help him catch up. The 17-year-old landed two quads in his short program last season, and a whopping four in his long. Chan, on the other hand, has just one quad in his short and two in his long. He does plan to debut a quad Salchow in his long program at Skate Canada.
“In the past two seasons, watching all these men adding so much technical difficulty, it was at first very frustrating to try to keep up, but now I see it every day with Nathan, he’s doing quad flips, quad Lutzes, quad Sals, quad (toe loops), and so on a regular basis I’m able to see that,” Chan said. “When you see it every day it kind of numbs you, it becomes motivation rather than resentment or jealousy.
“So when Nathan goes out and does a quad – and I’m working on my quad Sal – he does one and I’m like ‘Jesus, I can do that.’ He’s young and talented and has that ferociousness. And it’s very contagious.”
That motivation, Chan said, can work both ways. Chen moved to Canton to improve his components, the more artistic side of skating that Chan is so good at.
“And I need to improve my technical side, so it’s kind of a give and take,” Chan said. “I hope I give him some inspiration when it comes to the skating side, and he definitely gives me a lot of help on the quads when I do have trouble.”
Chan will battle Hanyu once again at Skate Canada, which also features the return of Virtue and Moir. Canada’s top ice dancers, who now live and train in Montreal, are making a comeback of their own, and will be gunning for Olympic gold next season in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Chan said watching the Rio Olympics in August was a bit of a reprieve in an otherwise busy and turbulent summer. He particularly enjoyed the swimming.
“Whenever I see the Summer Games, I know the Winter Games are right around the corner,” said Chan. “I remember the Summer Games before Vancouver, I remember exactly where I was before the Sochi Games too. It’s like a milestone.”