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Chan fears "The Phantom of the Opera" no more

World silver medalist debuts new free program at Liberty Summer Competition

For now, Chan will be coached by Lori Nichol and Christy Krall.
For now, Chan will be coached by Lori Nichol and Christy Krall. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/18/2009) - Patrick Chan competes his new free skate to The Phantom of the Opera at Liberty on Saturday, but according to his coach, Don Laws, it almost didn't happen.

"They forgot to put him in the draw," he said. "Finally, they just said, 'We'll plug him in last,' so that's where he is."

Chan and Laws would have hated to miss the opportunity; they've come to Liberty for three seasons running.

"This is where we do new material," Laws, who coached Scott Hamilton to Olympic gold in 1984, said. "It's a classic version. I call it 'Phantom of the Olympics.'"

With the Vancouver Games just seven months away, Chan fever has hit Canada. As one of the country's gold-medal hopes, the 18-year-old is featured in promotions and is heavily covered by the press. He has even filmed commercials, including a recent spot for Cheerios.

"Back in Toronto, at least a few times a day, someone will come up to me and say, 'Aren't you Patrick?' Sometimes it gets to be a distraction," the skater said. "That's why I like training [with Laws] in Florida, because I'm away from all that stuff. The distance helps me focus."

The spotlight on the two-time Canadian champion intensified after worlds this March, where the teen won a silver medal. Since then, apart from a week-long break and performances in "Festa on Ice" in South Korea in April, he's focused on his new program, choreographed by Lori Nichol in May.

"It's definitely a program I'm excited about, and I think everyone else is, too," he said. "It's got kind of an Olympic theme.

"It doesn't matter if it's perfect here at Liberty; the important thing is getting it out. That's the plan."

As Chan tells it, selecting the soundtrack for his Olympic quest took all of 10 minutes.

"It was after worlds, after everything calmed down," he remembered. "Lori said, 'What about Phantom of the Opera? And, oh, my God, it's always been in the back of my head. I've dreamed about doing it. I said, 'I love it, I want it.'"

Many other skaters have used Phantom. Sometimes, it appears on skating fans' tongue-in-cheek lists of "banned music," right behind Bizet's Carmen. But that doesn't trouble the young Canadian.

"I can relate to it a lot more than the Rachmaninoff I did," he said. "With [Rachmaninoff], I have to make up a story; here, it's already written for me."

The skater's relationship with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical began 12 years ago, recalled Lewis Chan.

"Patrick saw it when he was 6 in Toronto," Chan's dad said. "In fact, he was so scared by it, he couldn't sleep."

"Well, I was pretty young," Patrick said. "I remember you had to put on some cartoons to help me sleep. But we just bought tickets to the show in New York, so I'll see it again. And I saw the movie; Lori bought it and gave it to me."

Chan and Laws haven't tinkered with the skater's Tango short program, choreographed by Nichol last season.

"We really haven't had the time to go over it; maybe after Liberty," Chan said. "I hope there will be changes, but I'm so comfortable with it. The spins, for sure, will be different, and maybe Lori can spice up the footwork a bit."

In a sport where people usually parse their words, Chan stands apart. At worlds, he caused a stir with comments about the six-years-older Brian Joubert, telling the press, "If [Joubert] is going to say, 'Let's all do quads,' then he had better have three quads in a program and nail them good, or else he has nothing to say."

Since then, it seems he's mellowed on the subject.

"Years ago, most [top men] had quads in their program. That was under the old 6.0 [judging] system, with Elvis [Stojko]," he said.

"Brian [Joubert] does quads. He's kind of the Tim Goebel of his generation, and I want to do a quad, too. Think about how exciting it would be to land a quad at the Olympics. That gives me goose bumps. But no matter whether I do it or not, I'd be happy with a clean program."

Laws sounds a bit conflicted about the four-revolution jump.

"Of course we're working on the quad toe, but it's not something you can work on constantly," he said. "We know it's the mark of the senior men to have it, but you can still win without it. [World champions] Evan Lysacek and Jeff Buttle proved that.

"We're planning to show it [in the free skate] this season, but we're not absolutely sure. As good as Patrick already is, I don't want to have him put it in the program at a high risk."

Chan, too, is a bit ambivalent.

"It's coming along, and that gives me the confidence to continue to work on it," he said.

"The way I see it is Tiger Woods has a driver in his golf bag. He doesn't always use it. I have the same idea with the quad. I want it in my bag. I may make the decision not to do it, if it's not going well, but I want to have the choice."

One skater who has never had trouble landing his quad toe, 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko, plans a return to competition at Rostelecom Cup this October. The high-flying Russian typically executed two quad combinations -- often including a quad-triple-double -- in his free programs, and they helped him win three world titles.

"I'm excited to maybe compete against him," Chan said. "I always watched him on TV. My family always talked about him, about how hard he must have worked. To see him in person, maybe skate with him, would be so cool. I've never met him in my life."

Chan has the same attitude toward the Olympics, at least for now.

"There's no pressure; I'm looking forward to it," Chan said. "I try not to thing about it. It's a huge event. I definitely plan on staying in the [athlete's] village. I've already met some members of the bobsled and luge teams and some skiers. I want to go and hang out with them. They're a great bunch. It's going to be a blast."