10.28 - Chan-Hanyu rematch highlights Skate Canada (Beverley Smith)
It has been 25 years since Skate Canada was held in Lethbridge, Alberta, a small city known for its brisk wind gusts whistling through a mountain pass just to the west. Back in 1990, Josée Chouinard and Yuka Sato were starting to make their mark on the world scene and Kurt Browning was the headliner.
But 2015 Skate Canada offers up a much more competitive international field than in 1990, starting with the early-season clash of three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, returning from a season-long break, and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Chan took silver behind Hanyu at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
This highly anticipated matchup will draw world-wide attention. Can Chan get his mojo back after spending a year away from competition? Will he get his jumps back? Will Hanyu roar out of the gate after claiming the silver medal at the 2015 World Championships?
Both have competed in one international event to try to shake off the rust: Chan at the Japan Open and Hanyu at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic International. Neither was perfect, but that's to be expected this early in the season
At the Japan Open, Chan finished third to Shoma Uno and Javier Fernández, while Hanyu drew rave reviews at the Autumn Classic.
Coach Brian Orser said Hanyu wasn't at his fitness peak, however. He flipped out of a quadruple toe loop in the short program; in the free, he put a hand down on his first quad toe and fell on his second. He landed an earlier quad salchow, so Hanyu intends to go for the gusto this season with three free skate quads.
"To be honest, there were many points that I am not happy with," Hanyu said of the free. "But in terms of score, I felt that the evaluation I got was higher than I expected."
Chan, on the other hand, intends to do only one quad in his free skate. And he's not working on a different one.
"I think it would be a little too much on my plate to throw training a quad salchow and putting it into the long program this early in the comeback," he said.
Chan plans to focus on staying healthy this season.
"I think that another thing that year off has taught me is that I have to look broader and not so focused on killing myself left and right, trying to do all these different quads," he said. "When you focus on the quads so much, it really does take away from the quality of the skating."
Chan wants to bring a new attitude to his skating and competing, and he would also like to focus on audience connection, something he learned from a year of touring.
"I have a sense of nervousness, but a sense of nervousness that is in my control, not overwhelmingly driving me crazy," he said.
He's dropped his weight to about 150 pounds to be competitive with skaters like Fernández and Hanyu.
"Those guys are like twigs compared to me," he said.
Performance-wise, Chan feels he's also learned more about facial and bodily expression from his stint on the tours.
"It's like holding your gaze in a certain direction for a second longer changes the whole feeling of the program," Chan said. "I want the judges to see that I'm mastering this other part of skating, not just the jumps."
With Hanyu in his sights, he'll have to master the jumps. Hanyu is taking command of both sides of the equation. His new free to the Japanese movie Onmyoji was understated at the Autumn Classic International. It proved powerful, and it was the first time he has ever skated to a Japanese theme.
"The program is going to be tough to beat," said three-time world champion Elvis Stojko, who was on hand for the outing. "Patrick is going to have his work cut out for him.
"If [Hanyu] ever misses a jump, the arsenal he has in his program, [he'll have plenty of points in reserve]," Stojko said. "And if he's skating it this well so early in the season, it's only going to get better. It's going to be interesting."
Chan and Hanyu will be up against Daisuke Murakami, the Japanese skater who won the 2014 NHK Trophy in an upset. U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon, who brings a quad lutz with him, and Canadian champion Nam Nguyen, who finished fifth at the world championships, will also compete. Nguyen plans two quads in his free skate and a quad toe-triple toe combination in his short program. He landed that combination for the first time at the 2015 Autumn Classic International.
10.28 - TSN.ca - Chan takes centre ice at Skate Canada (Tracy Wilson)
Patrick Chan will make his return to Grand Prix competition this weekend at Skate Canada International in Lethbridge, Alberta - his first Olympic style competition since the Sochi games over a year and a half ago.
In his time away from competition he has toured the world, performing in shows and skating each October in the Japan Open, a Pro Am Competition where he has had to perform an Olympic style competitive free skate.
At this year's event where he finished third, he was slightly off balance throughout his skate, missing some jumps and struggling for control. “I didn't think it would be so hard,” he told me backstage after his skate.
While he was fit, well trained and quite confident in practice, the only way to be in competition shape is to compete. He told me that when he took the ice to start he thought, “I can't feel my legs,” a common affliction for a competitive skater. But when it’s been a year since putting it all on the line and facing a judging panel, the ability to quell the rising swell of panic is certainly not automatic.
When Patrick takes centre ice at Skate Canada this weekend, it will be his first short program in competition in 20 months. He will face his Sochi rival, Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.
Ideally, this is not the way to ease back into a competitive career. He will have to face the enormity of his comeback head on. It was clear from watching Patrick train and compete last month, that he’s more than capable of regaining past form and that the sport is fortunate to have him back. He just has to weather the storm, get through the early comeback stages and find his comfort level in front of judges, once again.