Patrick Chan: A man cannot do badly what he truly loves
Elena Vaitsekhovskaya’s interview with Patrick Chan.
From the journalist point of view you had a benchmark career ending with an Olympic gold medal won in a team event. But what did you feel when you’ve already decided to finish your career, but haven’t announced it yet?
– If I say that it was easy it’ll be a lie. It was very difficult and scary. Probably, these are normal human feelings when it comes to changing your life forever. For more than 20 years my life could have been described in two words: “Patrick is a figure skater”, and everything else has been all about it. At some point, as I grew older, I began to wonder who am I actually outside the ice? How can my future life develop without figure skating? How to plan it from scratch? Now, when all these worries have subsided, I cannot but admit that I chose a very proper time to leave. Taking into account the current tendencies in men’s single skating, I would have been just swept out of the way if I hadn’t taken this step myself.
It seemed to me that you were pretty close to finishing your career four years ago, when you took a one-year break after the Games in Sochi.
– You don’t even imagine how close. I was absolutely lost after those Games. I just suddenly realized that I can’t do anything else except skating. Then, I began to think about the future, to think what would be interesting to me, could I be happy, could it happen that this new life would fit into the sad wording “Patrick is a former figure skater”? These four years from Sochi to Pyeongchang helped me a lot to figure it out.
There is a version that in 2015 you came back to figure skating just because of the Olympic team event.
– To be honest, in 2015, I didn’t even think about it. I returned to a comfortable zone for myself, where everything was thoroughly known to me: how to train, how to perform, and where every hour of my life was clearly scheduled. Then, naturally, the question arose “Why am I doing all this?” I knew perfectly well that I couldn’t fight for individual medal anymore – I missed that boat in Sochi. And the team event has become an excellent motivation. A very strong one, by the way. I didn’t have such before Sochi.
You said so calmly that I you missed the boat…
– What’s the big deal? When an athlete realizes that he will not be the first, even if he skates the program of his life, it hurts, but actually this is the most valuable experience that sport can give. At this moment you really start to understand what is the most important thing in your life. Medals? Nonsense! Any medal is just a momentary material thing. If you make it the only meaning of your life, then you will be left with nothing, if you don’t win. Even if you win. To have a long life in sport, and so it doesn’t become a torture, you need a completely different motivation, an ability to enjoy even very hard work, an understanding that you skate because you want to, because you love it. And this should be at the forefront. Just a few think about it. You need a certain inner maturity to realize it.
I know that before the Games in Sochi you postponed an attempt to get a university education several times, you did not see any opportunity to combine study and training. Do you think that Nathan Chen, who entered Yale University in the summer, will succeed?
– Nathan is an incredibly talented guy, and I don’t mean physical features. He has great head. I talked with his parents, with him, questioned him about his brothers and sisters, and concluded that they all are bright personalities. Myself I’m a big realist in terms of my abilities, so I quickly realized that I won’t be able to combine study and sports. It’s beyond my abilities. Perhaps that is why it’s so interesting for me to watch him. He is really amazing, as an athlete Chen is absolutely great, but it is very easy to talk with him and he also has both feet firmly on the ground. In general, not many people, I think, can imagine what it means to be number one in the US team and at the same time study at Yale University.
Has any of the skaters tried to combine such?
– If I’m not mistaken, only Sarah Hughes. She entered Yale after the Games in Salt Lake City, but as far as I remember, took a break from studying.
Now Harutyunyan worries that work has become less fulfilling. You have changed more than a dozen coaches in your life. In your opinion how big is the role of coach, if we are talking about a top-level athlete?
– I think that at this level the coach becomes more like a manager of his student rather than a teacher. He cares not so much about the technical aspects of skating, but about proper nutrition, rest, so that nothing bothers his athlete in training. Of course coaches can advise something, correct, but nevertheless, athletes like Chen, like Yuzuru Hanyu, do not require every minute custody. Even when they are coached by such great specialists as Harutyunyan or Brian Orser.
How do you think who will successfully jump the quad axel in competition first? Срen or Hanyu?
– I’m pretty sure it will be Yuzuru.
– Because he has the best triple axel I’ve ever seen. With eass and without a shadow of effort. Hanyu is able to rotate very quickly, and I would say that he came as close as possible to adding one more turn to the triple axel. Chen is very good at jumping the quad lutz, but I would not call axel his strong jump. Are there any other contenders? Maybe Shoma Uno. Maybe there will be someone completely unexpected – Keegan Messing, for example. He is very explosive, with huge jumps. But for some reason it seems to me that Hanyu will not allow anyone to get ahead of him.
In Russia, the theme of Brian Orser working with two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, who still can’t return to her pre-Olympic shape is being discussed very actively now. And what they say about it in Canada?
– I can say what I think about this. First of all, we should not forget that Zhenya is very young. It seems to me that this is too much to demand from her to be the first at all competitions in a row, as it actually happened during three seasons before the Olympics. Now Medvedeva has a period that I would call a construction period. New body, new technique, new programs, new psychology. Plus moving to another country. The point is not that Canada has a different culture or other food. Everything is different here, the relationship between the athlete and the coach as well. I know that the basic position of the entire coaching team at Cricket Club is what we have already talked about, first of all they teach a skater to love figure skating. A man cannot do badly what he truly loves. If he believes in himself, if he likes to develop in terms of skating, music, choreography, the result will definitely come. Zhenya is just at the very beginning of this journey from the “girl who jumps” to figure skater, who is able to make any audience cry and empathize.
What thoughts come to your mind when you see how 13-year-old girls perform quad lutz?
– Funny story, after the Games in Vancouver, one of the journalists asked me will any of the male single skaters ever land a quad lutz? Then, without hesitation I replied that it was absolutely unreal. And now the little girl jumps two quad lutzes in one program, I just can’t believe it. Figure skating is changing rapidly, skaters even look differently. On the one hand, it is fascinating, on the other hand, I clearly see that, in terms of women’s skating, there is a forcing of results starting from junior age. And it doesn’t develop figure skating as a sport. If a girl jumps a quadruple, it becomes completely unimportant how she skates and even coaches start to see no point of teaching this. As a result, they immediately begin to jump, turning figure skating into tricks for the sake of tricks.
In your sports collection there are three Olympic medals and five more, including three gold ones, from World championships. Which of these awards …
– Is the most memorable?
Not. Brought you, strange as it may sound, the biggest disappointment?
– This is definitely individual silver in Sochi. It has been a long time before I accepted this result and stopped considering it a terrible failure.
Has it something to do with the fact that Yuzuru Hanyu, who won the gold medal, didn’t skate the best way in Sochi?
– Yes. The door was open. But I wasn’t able to take advantage of it. Now when time has passed, I must admit that the result was fair. I just wasn’t ready to become an Olympic champion. And if so, then I didn’t deserve a gold medal. But in Pyeongchang, I had the feeling that the time has come. I matured to become a champion, even if it was just a team event.
However, you had mistakes.
– It’s different. It is a bit strange to explain this, but these are different things to be ready to fight for a medal and just to desire it. The undoubtful pros of that defeat in Sochi – it made me wiser. In sports, we often become hostages of the result: how many Grand Prix Finals you have, how many medals, how many titles. Behind all this, it is somehow forgotten that skaters, even such incredible ones as Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova, are living people, not animals who can be chasen with a whip from medal to medal. And they are not robots. They have emotions, this is as much the part of their career as the performances, and who knows what remains in memory of the fans. I myself felt like a robot before the Games in Sochi, I was programmed only to win and I really broke when this program wasn’t completed.
Which coach made you change your attitude to skating?
– Coaches have nothing to do with it, just the time has come. Those who influenced me in one way or another, this are definitely my girlfriend Elizabeth, my coach Ravi Walia, friends, people from Skate Canada, if I start listing all, there will be plenty.
How much the federation in your country is able to influence the actions of an athlete, if he wants to change the coach?
– The Federation expresses its opinion, but only that. Who is your coach this is your own business. Your wallet and your area of responsibility.
Didn’t it become a problem for Canadian figure skating federation that a whole group of top figure skaters went to a show around the country instead of performing at the Grand Prix?
– I didn’t think about it. And why should it create a problem?
Don’t you remember the story of Evgeni Plushenko, who in 2010 was disqualified by ISU for going to the show instead of , World championship in Turin?
– It seems to me that the times have changed a lot in this regard. It is not too legitimate to limit people in opportunities to make money, because they spend money on paying for trainings. By the way, I think that ice shows give figure skating to no less than big championships. They propagandize it, teach people to see the beauty of gliding, make them look at the sport with different eyes. If the federation had any questions, then only to Kaetlyn Osmond and Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje, who intend to continue their sports careers. All the others have already left sport.
Meagan Duhamel told me in September that she was looking forward for the show, because she thought it should be quite special.
– And it has become special for all of us. It was difficult, but everyone perceived it as a challenge. 28 shows, 28 cities. I think that none of us had experience of such performances. So, no one really knew how to cope with this, but in the end it turned out well. It’s a pleasure to perform with people you have known for many years. You know their weaknesses, you understand how and whom to help. Sometimes it was a complete improvisation – every new situation had to be solved on the fly. But we coped.
How did you get to China as a coach? Or do you try on a new profession this way?
– It was an initiative of one of Elizabeth and Ravi’s friends. In China, there are six private companies that build ice arenas. But, since they are not connected with either the state or the figure skating federation, there are certain difficulties in adjusting the infrastructure and providing some basic things. One of the problems is the lack of coaches who could work with children at the basic level. I don’t know who got the idea to invite famous athletes to China, but it got accustomed. Meryl Davies / Charlie White, Jeff Battle, Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson went to Beijing, so in China, they use every opportunity. Now this is especially true because the next Olympic Games will be held in Beijing.
In your opinion, is it possible to create in China a strong figure skating school like in gymnastics and diving?
– I am sure of it. It is important to choose the right coaching staff from the very beginning. This, I would say, is the most difficult part of any project, especially now, when a truly strong result can only be achieved if you work in a large center. In a team.
One of the Russian ice dance coaches told me a story how for a year he worked in the US with a Chinese pair, and the next season the girl came with a new partner. Sports leaders considered that new duet is more promising, and the coach’s opinion didn’t interest anyone in this situation.
– And doesn’t something like this happen in Russia? It seemed to me that this was done when Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar teamed up in order to win gold in Sochi. It’s a fact that in some countries the federation has a big role in such processes. In Canada, everything is completely different: you skate with whom you want to skate and train as you consider right. In China, I also don’t feel any interference in my work for a very simple reason: I work with those who just begin to skate. I learn to feel balance, I teach gliding. By the way I am absolutely not sure that I would like to work with senior national team level athletes. Figure skating is becoming too complicated for me.
You speak Chinese, don’t you?
– Not as good as I would like to. The situation is much better with English and French, If you live in Canada, being bilingual is a must. Especially if you expect to work in the public service.
And do you?
– I haven’t decided yet.
Then the final, New Year’s Eve question. Wine from which country do you prefer to drink being in Canada?
– You might be surprised, but in British Columbia they produce quite a few good wines of their own. In summer we have quite hot weather, just right for vineyards. You can take any of the wines of the Okanagan Valley – you can not go wrong.
Feels expert opinion.
– I like how organically combined very complex technologies and traditions which winemakers brought to the level of art. So I’m a real fan of wine. I even worked at one of the Ontario wineries, which specializes in the production of dessert and sparkling wines, including ice wines – that is being made from grapes touched by frost. It was interesting for me to know better the brand, whose products I advertise. Perhaps, winemaking will become one of the parts of my future business if I have enough money for it.