Patrick Chan’s New Mantra: Figure Skaters of the World Unite

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Patrick Chan thinks it’s time figure skaters got unionized.

“I would be at the forefront of supporting a union for skaters,” the three-peat world men’s champion from Toronto declares. “This is ridiculous. I just think we’re being manipulated for the benefit of the (International Skating Union) because they’re making all the money.”

The solidarity penny dropped at the recent World Team Trophy championships in Japan, where Chan really didn’t want to be at the end of an exhausting competitive season but was compelled to contend. Either that or forgo the Investors Group Stars on Ice Tour that arrives at the Air Canada Centre on Friday, because a suspension from out-of-competition appearances would undoubtedly have ensued.

“I could have said I was hurt, which is what a lot of skaters did, the Russians and Chinese,” says Chan, who is too honest for wink-wink opt-out excuses. “But I would have paid a penalty. The ISU does not allow me not to do it.”

The 22-year-old was “named” to Canada’s squad for the 2013 World Team event that finished second in Tokyo because of his international ranking. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlan, B.C., was also on the roster but, in the absence of Chan, the only alternate option for the required second male participant would have been Newmarket’s Andrei Rogozine – fifth at 2012 nationals and not good enough by ISU reckoning. Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were able to sidestep Tokyo, in part because the second-ranked Canadian duo of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were deemed suitably elite (fifth at worlds) for the assignment. Ditto for the American contingent in dance, with reigning world champions Charlie White and Meryl Davis navigating a pass.

“Scott and Tessa were able to get out of it, so were Charlie and Meryl,” says Chan, “because it’s not like going from the top of the team to the bottom of the food chain. My situation is different. Who else of equal value is going to replace me?”

The World Team Trophy, a gimmicky $1-million purse event inaugurated in 2009 and featuring the top six skating countries on the planet, is designed to squeeze every last sweat bead out of skaters – and every last entertainment dollar out of TV broadcasting revenues. It will make its Olympic debut in Sochi. After the other worlds – the real worlds in March in London, Ont. – it was hugely anticlimactic.

“I’m not particularly fond of this event,” says Chan. “Nobody’s really interested in it. Skating is done after worlds. It’s just so different. There’s no spark, no buzz in the air at the rink. Going from London, where that was so abundant, made it extremely hard to skate.”

Further, the totally unnecessary competition leaves one more risk, at the end of the season, for athletes to suffer injury. That’s precisely what happened to Russian men’s entrant Konstantin Menshov, who dislocated located his shoulder falling on a jump in the free skate segment.

“What if that was me?” wonders Chan. “What if my training for next year, an Olympic year, had gone out the window because of a stupid injury at a stupid competition?”

In past years, Chan admits he scarcely trained for the World Team competition. This season, coming off a controversial gold at the world championships – two falls in his sloppy long program – he put aside his aversion for the event and trained diligently, if only to end the calendar campaign on a strong note.

Chan led after the short but fell three times in the long and finished third overall behind Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi. “Some people had the skate of their lives and I just didn’t. But I did my part to hold the anchor and we came home with a silver medal, which was an improvement over (bronze) last year.”

Tokyo was also the last we’ll see of Chan’s La Boheme program. “That long program is not my favourite. I don’t see myself competing it in the Olympics.”

He has a piece of music in mind for the 2013-2014 season and the choreography, by David Wilson, should be ready next month. For the short, Chan intends to stick with the Rachmaninoff routine he used this year. “It’s such a beautiful piece. It absolutely brings the best out of me.” That includes a world-record short score at worlds.

It’s been an erratic season, if ultimately successful, with many changes in the Chan camp. At the conclusion of the Stars on Ice tour – 12 Canadian cities – he will be packing up his dolls and dishes and moving formally from his Colorado Springs training centre to the Detroit Skating Club, where he teed up worlds. While a disapproving chorus had questioned Chan’s skating decisions over the past season, with a new coach and different choreographers, he’s proven doubters wrong.

“At my level, I can find the best out of any kind of change. I was due for one. I didn’t want to go to the Olympics without having done that. I wouldn’t be a fulfilled skater, an Olympic champion who’s done everything possible to get to where he is. So, that was a risk I took. I knew what was best for me. The ice sessions in Detroit are much more catered to elite skaters. I don’t have to fight for music, I don’t have to fight for my space on the ice. I don’t have to deal with drama with coaches, everyone gets along.

“Making the change to Detroit right before worlds was a huge risk, a leap of faith. But it really was the best thing that happened because I wouldn’t have squeaked out another gold medal if I hadn’t made that change.”

Toronto Star - Rosie DiManno

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