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Chan eyeing SKAM podium

Butterflies banished: Chan confident

Patrick Chan, 16, proved he belonged with the big boys by landing on two senior Grand Prix podiums.
Patrick Chan, 16, proved he belonged with the big boys by landing on two senior Grand Prix podiums. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(10/22/2007) - Sixteen-year-old Patrick Chan will arrive in Reading, Pa., for Skate America this week having banished the butterflies that plagued him last year as a rookie on the Grand Prix circuit.

A triple Axel has something to do with his heightened confidence, not to mention his podium finish at the 2007 World Junior championships.

"I will feel much more at ease. I found last year on the circuit I was really, really nervous. For example, my first Grand Prix which was in Paris, I was so nervous, I was pale," recalls the Canadian national team member. "It was so overwhelming. I never had skated against the guys I was competing with --- (France's Brian) Joubert, Ilia Klimkin and Sergei Voronov, from Russia.

"Nagano was difficult especially because I flew straight to Japan from France," Chan said of his second Grand Prix assignment in 2006 where he finished seventh. "I got homesick. I wasn't as nervous, but I was tired and wanted to get home. I wasn't in the competition mode. This year I'm very happy because I have one domestic (North American) and one international (Grand Prix), so it's not so much travel."

Chan's second assignment is the Trophee Eric Bompard where he ranked fifth last year.

The World junior silver medalist landed his first three-revolution Axel in competition this past summer at The Liberty, which also happened to be in Pennsylvania. Now, both programs include the high-risk, high-return jump. After the Grand Prix season, his goal will be to add a second triple Axel to his long program.

"But first things first," said Chan.

He turned heads in his senior debut at the 2006 Canadian championships thanks to his silky smooth style and a maturity well beyond his, then, 15 years.

Job one this season is to land on a Grand Prix podium for the first time. Chan believes he now has the goods to do that.

This week's Skate America competition will serve as the culmination of an experiment of sorts for Chan and his coach, Don Laws. That's because Chan trains primarily in Toronto, while Laws is based in Orlando, Fla.

"We've never tried this and we don't know what's going to happen, but we'll see at Skate America, but it should be OK," Chan said. "Mrs.(Ellen) Burka is a good temporary coach while I'm here (in Toronto). I don't think it's really that big a deal. Of course, it is a bit of a disadvantage, but you have to deal with it I guess."

Deciding that it would be "too complicated" to figure out schooling if he moved to the U.S. full-time, and because his home club -- The Granite - was anxious to have him remain there as a mentor for younger skaters; Chan came back to Toronto this fall after skating in Florida during the summer. During longer holiday periods from school, he'll travel back to Orlando, while Laws heads north three or four times a year, spending maybe four days refreshing Chan's technique.

For years, Chan had trained with the legendary Osbourne Colson, the man responsible for the teen's incredible flow and enviable skating technique. At age 89, Colson told journalists that he intended to stay alive to mold the young man into a world champion. Fate had other plans. Colson passed away last year at 90.

Laws, who had also been coached by Colson decades earlier, became Chan's new coach this past year. He often offers up the same advice as Colson did.

Chan has chosen to keep the Vivaldi Four Seasons long program he used last year, although the footwork was changed to suit the new rules. His short program, set by his choreographer Lori Nichol, features music from a Chinese movie called The Banquet.

Chan's father hails from Hong Kong, while his mother was born in mainland China. The young Chan speaks Cantonese but says he would be too nervous to try to communicate with Chinese skaters using his second language. Besides, Mandarin is more commonly spoken by the Chinese team members, Chan said of the language he is also planning to study.

Shortly after celebrating his 17th birthday on New Year's eve, Chan will vie for one of only two World Championship berths available to Canadian men this year. There are at least six athletes capable of claiming one of those spots at the 2008 Nationals.

Although Chan will still be age-eligible for the World Junior Championships until 2010, he has already competed at that event three times, finishing seventh, then sixth and, last season, second.

"I don't really want to go back to Junior Worlds, so I will have to work really hard to make it onto the senior team. It will be really hard because we've got pretty good men," Chan said.

Asked which of his former coach's words of advice remain most clear in his memory, Chan recalls one recurring scenario. When Chan stood at the boards waiting for his name to be called to compete, Mr. Colson would always pose the same question: "He would ask me in a light-hearted way, 'Do you think you're ready?' And I would say, 'I hope so.' He says, 'No. You are ready. You've done all you can. You can't do any more.'"

This week, if Colson could be in Reading to ask that question once more, Chan's answer would reveal a skater who no longer takes issue with expressing confidence in his own ability.

"Yes. I do believe I'm ready," Chan said as he imagined answering Olson's traditional question. "As long as I keep up what I'm doing now, I'll be ready."