Ice Network

Boston brewings: Chan focuses on strengths

Second triple axel in free bolsters three-time world champion's chances
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Patrick Chan knows that even two clean skates in Boston might not be enough to net him his fourth world title. -Getty Images

On Sunday, his first night in Boston for the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, Patrick Chan wrestled with the lobster at Legal Sea Foods. First, he snapped off the claws; then, he wrenched off the tail.

"He did well with it," his coach and dining companion, Kathy Johnson, said. "He was swinging his elbows just a little. It was all good."

Johnson knows from lobsters. She now calls Kansas City, Missouri, home, but she was born and raised in Nahant, Massachusetts, an island community just a 35-minute drive outside of Boston. Her mother still owns a waterfront home there, which Johnson visits every summer and Chan has also frequented.

"Kathy knows all of the Boston spots," Chan said. "It's exciting to have her family, who I've spent time with in the past, here watching. It's kind of like competing at home, in a way."

Just returning to worlds is a homecoming of sorts for the Olympic silver medalist, who hasn't competed at this event since winning the last of his three consecutive world titles in 2013. He sat out the 2014-15 campaign to recharge his batteries after a disappointing loss at the Sochi Olympics to Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu.

"I took a step back, worked with David [Wilson] on show programs, where we have complete liberty of choreography and expression," Chan said.

It wasn't enough. At age 25, he yearned for competition, for more world titles and, perhaps, Olympic gold in 2018.

"For sure, that's why I came back," he said. "If I didn't have that feeling, then (I would) stick to shows. I love doing shows, but I still had that little hunger to be better than everyone else. That's why we compete; that's why we are all athletes."

Chan's challenge will be at least as tough to dissect as his lobster. Skaters like Hanyu, defending world champion Javier Fernández and up-and-comers like Boyang Jin of China haven't been standing still waiting for his return. Not long ago, the Canadian's technical content was considered state of the art. Now, his top competition has two different quads in their short programs and three or four in their free skates.

"It's a little predictable because after the Olympics I knew Yuzu and Javi would come right up and fill in the blank that I left," Chan said. "Competing against these guys at their best makes it very exciting. Coming off Four Continents, even though they weren't competing there, and having a great skate was a bit of a statement."

After Hanyu lost to Chan at Skate Canada, the former added a second quad -- a salchow -- to his short program. It worked so well that the Japanese star and his coach, Brian Orser, put two in his free skate, along with a quad toe. The Olympic champion earned more than 330 points at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in December, some 67 more than Chan's fourth-place tally.

Chan fired back at the 2016 Four Continents Championships last month, landing two quad toes and two triple axels in a free skate for the first time in his career.

"I can only come in and do what I do best. I don't have the firepower that they have. I don't have the two quads in the short; I don't have the three quads in the long some have," Chan said. "I have other advantages, though, that I'm going to focus on. I have my own demons and my own challenges with the two quads and the two triple axels now."

There was a time Chan's high program component scores could offset a fall or two in competition. Now, the math tells the tale: He has to be near-perfect to win, and Hanyu has to make mistakes.

"It is a little more stressful now," Chan admitted. "It's a bit like the situation I was in at Four Continents, when I was fifth after the short program and I was competing against the two Chinese boys (Jin and Han Yan), one doing quad lutz, and they both skated clean in the long. I went out and did what I had to do, and I accomplished my goal in that event: to land my first second triple axel in a program."

Next season, the quad salchow -- a jump Chan trained with former coach Christy Krall in Colorado Springs several seasons ago -- may be part of his plan.

"He got back from Four Continents and got back on the ice and did the quad salchow off of his triple axel pattern, so that will be something we definitely look at," Johnson said. "I think it's important his axel has gotten so good this year, so the second triple axel is there. It will be a matter of running numbers and program layout for next year, where he wants to add the quad salchow and at what point in the season."

In Boston, Chan will stick with his Four Continents jump plan. And as is his usual practice, he won't follow the leaderboard and calculate how many points he needs to win a fourth world title.

"I know all I have to do is go out and focus on myself to be the best," he said. "I'm not going to think, 'What jumps did Javi land? What jumps did Yuzu land? What did Shoma [Uno] land?' I just have to focus on going out there and get tuned into myself."

Knee laceration just latest bump for French

Sharp-eyed fans at TD Garden have noticed Gabriella Papadakis sporting a knee bandage during practice.

"It's a fashion accessory," her partner, Guillaume Cizeron, said. "It's cool, isn't it?"

The dressing covers the latest bump in a rocky season for the French ice dancers, who won a surprising world title last season after placing 13th in 2014.

"I just took Guillaume's blade in my knee a few weeks ago," Papadakis said. "It's the kind of thing that happens quite often; it was just a little bit more deep than usual. So I just had stitches, and now I'm fine. It bothered me a little bit at the beginning, but now it's OK."

Papadakis' nonchalance about the relatively minor injury is understandable. In late August, the 20-year-old, who trains in Montreal under Romain Haguenauer, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, sustained a serious concussion after falling in practice. Out of competition until the French championships in December, the team nevertheless defended their European title in Bratislava, Slovakia, in January.

"Bratislava was a stressful competition," Dubreuil said. "They felt the weight of not having competed all season, and everyone's eyes were on them. They were the focal point. They kept their thick bubble around them and just performed as best they could for where they were in their preparation."

After Europeans, Dubreuil would have liked to return to Quebec to incorporate the feedback the team received into their programs, especially their short dance set to the W.E. soundtrack. But first, they had a performing contract in Switzerland with Art on Ice.

"It was good for them to perform in front of a crowd, because that really was what was missing this season," Dubreuil said. "Since coming back to Montreal last month, they have been really, really working. They were working six hours a day, if not more, really motivated and really happy after Europeans. And since then, their progression has been wonderful."

Cizeron admitted that, like in Bratislava, they feel the weight of defending their title in Boston.

"But we try not to think, really, about it," he said. "We just focus on doing our job and what we can do and doing it 100 percent."