Japan Skates' interview with Patrick Chan at the Granite Club, April 29, 2008
Gigi's photography done May 27, 2008

By Mark S., (c) Japan Skates 2008.

For photos and videos from the interview, please click HERE!  Japanese version is coming soon!

Seventeen year-old Patrick Chan is the current Canadian men's figure skating champion.  Although he has been known to Canadian fans for a number of years, his international profile has risen this past season with his victory at Trophťe Bompard in France and at the Canadian nationals, defeating eventual world champion Jeff Buttle along the way.  Japan Skates had received some requests for an interview with him, as he is quite popular in Japan and other Asian countries.  A mutual friend put us in contact with Patrick's family and we asked if he would consider interviewing for the site.  Patrick graciously accepted and we set Tuesday, April 29 as the interview date.  Patrick would join Yu-Na Kim as one of two non-Japanese skaters we have featured on the Interview page.

I first saw Patrick skate at the 2005 World Junior championship in Kitchener, Ontario, which also featured Mao, Yu-Na, Nobunari, Virtue/Moir and other future stars.  Coached by the venerable Osburn Colson, he was touted as a future champion once he conquered the now-mandatory multiple triple Axels and quads.  Over the past two seasons, he has certainly delivered on that billing.  A national championship, Grand Prix victory and an impressive top ten finish at his first Worlds have established him as a major player in men's skating leading up to the 2010 Olympics in his native Canada.  Most remarkably, he has trained independently since the passing of Mr. Colson a couple of years ago, working with Ellen Burka and Doug Leigh before establishing a successful  arrangement with Florida's Don Laws on a remote basis.

Longtime Japan Skates contributor Gigi was scheduled to accompany me to the Granite Club, Patrick's training facility, but on April 29 she found herself slowed with a sore knee, which was not exactly conducive to taking great skating photos.  Patrick and his mother kindly offered a later date for Gigi to photograph his training session, and she and I duly returned on Tuesday, May 27 for the on-ice photo shoot.  We hope you enjoy learning more about Canada's hard-working and well-spoken men's champion.

JS:  Japan Skates
PC:  Patrick Chan

JS:  Thanks for accepting the interview today.  There has been a lot of interest in you from our readers in Japan and other countries.  The first question is from superfan Janet Neil, whom we interviewed at Skate Canada, who had a good question to begin with.  What are your feelings about your first World Championships at the senior level and what did you learn or gain from the whole experience, being about a month removed from it right now?

PC:  I think itís a great startÖIím glad I made this year or else I think next year would have been too late, considering the Olympics would be the year after, so it was a good start and good first time.  Coming ninth wasÖ a lot of people came up to me and said that thatís really unbelievable because itís been so rare that someone at their first World Championships had placed so well.  Though I wish I had skated a better long program than I did, considering the situation, it was pretty good.  So basically what I took from that for next time, I realized how BIG it actually isÖ the World Championships, many skaters, a lot media people.  I mean, even me who wasnít the headliner still got a fair amount of media and then thereís a lot of fans, because Europe is very big with figure skating.  So thatís pretty much what I learned.  So it was a good, good experience.

JS:  Was there any more pressure coming in as the Canadian champion than what there might have been had you been number two?

PC:  Maybe a month prior, or maybe right after I won Nationals, I was a bit nervous thinking ahead to Worlds, but Skate Canada came by before Worlds and took a look at me just to see if I was in good shape, and they made sure to tell me that there was no pressure at all and that they just wanted me to go for fun this time.  They said that this is the only time when you can actually have fun at a World Championship and not have any pressure.  Maybe next year will be different, but this year definitely they just said ďgo out and have fun.Ē  So when I got there, no, I did not think of the pressure or that ďOh my God Iím national champion, Iím going to show my country that I have to medalĒÖno I didnít think about that at all when I got there.

JS:  Iíd like to ask you about your coaching dynamics.  Youíve worked with Ellen Burka in the past and now with Don Laws, on a remote basisÖ  I know you traveled with him and that he comes up here.  Can you describe the relationship that you have with your coach because it is rather unique in that you each have to travel?

PC:  YeahÖ Ellen was great.  Ellenís been around a long time since I was little; sheís seen me evolve in my skating career, so sheís quite knowledgeable as well.  With the traveling between me and DonÖ I think only certain people can do that.  I think Jeff (Buttle) can do that, and we can do that as well, because weíre able to travel, and sometimes we just need to be independent and work on our own and not have a coach along with us the whole time, so weíre able to work around that and be individual to each other and kind of correct yourself, be your own coach.  So, Iím pretty lucky to have that kind of talent.  Me and Don, we have a really good chemistry, and Iíve said it once before - another competitive skater might not enjoy Don as much as I do, because we are two different people with two different personalities.  Me and Don, our personalities really intertwine so we are a puzzle that matches; we have very good chemistry between each other.

JS:  When youíre training here, does Don come up?  Is there a regular schedule, or do you travel more?

PC:  I usually travel more.  I usually go to Florida more often than he comes to Toronto.  He might come to Toronto twice a year.  I go down three or four times a year.  Itís cheaper for us as well and more convenient for him, cause heís older and he has a lot of students back home, so itís better.  He likes it in Florida, and heíd rather stay home so Iím not complaining going to Florida!

JS:  Sp thereís no one here who works as your home coach?  You coach yourself when youíre at the Granite Club?

PC:  Yeah, exactly.  Right now, because weíre getting new programs done, itís a bit different.  Lori (Nichol), at the same time as doing choreography, also helps me out and gives me some tips, but in general itís just me.

JS:  You mentioned that you thought that Don worked a little bit like Mr. Colson did, so you have some continuity?

PC:  Yeah, exactly, so that definitely helped the change from Mr. Colson to Don, considering that Don wasnít much different from Mr. Colson, but yet ďdifferentĒ.  Itís kind of weird, but I always say Mr. Colson is Version 6 and Don is Version 7Öheís the upgraded version of Mr. Colson.  The difference is that I get to share how I feel on a certain day or some problems I have personally I can share with him, whereas with Mr. Colson, heíd just say ďAh, whatever, just deal with itĒ, and he was more of a gentleman and not as much like a brother, I would say.  Mr. Colson is someone you would respect, like a grandfather.

JS:  You talked about working with Lori.  What sort of input do you have into your choreography or into your music selections?  How does the process work?

PC:  As for music, this is pretty much how it works.  Lori gets a whole bunch of music she likes and puts in a bunch, and then I take a bunch, and we put them together and then we narrow it down, and we keep narrowing down.  Right now, the short programÖshe brought it and I liked itÖthose are the rare occasions when right away I like it.  And then we start working on it.  Itís like a lucky hit.  But right now, the long program is what is difficult.  Weíre really going through a lot of music just to find something good, cause when she finds something interesting, I donít find it interesting!  Thatís how it usually works.  Choreography-wise, we mix, we have fun.  You know, we just play around.  So itís both of us, itís never one or the other, it always both.  Listen to Patrick

JS:  Is it too early at this point to mention any names for your programs?

PC:  Yeah, I guess Iíll keep it a secret for now!

JS:  What other sort of training to do you do?  What is a typical week in your life during the season?

PC:  Right now, when Iím in school, I go to school and then I come back to skate and then after, depending on the day, I either have yoga, Pilates, and right now I just started doing some gymnastics classesÖit involves a lot of endurance and cardio work as well as flexibility and core strength.  And then Sundays I see my trainer to do just regular weight work.  In the summer, thatís when it gets really different.  Then, itís two hours in the morning on the ice, and then I get off and do Pilates or yoga and then back on the ice for another two hours and finish and then see a trainer.  And then from there I go home.

JS:  Is it six days a week for you normally?

PC:  Yes, itís six days, in the summer too.

JS:  Is there a true vacation for you at any point, where itís no skates, no nothing, just beach?

PC:  In the summer?  In the summer maybe just the weekendsÖ some days Iíll take the whole weekend off and skip Saturday skating, but usually itís six days a week.

JS:  Iíve read that youíve been practicing jumps.  How is the progress on incorporating the second triple Axel, and has anything started on the quad yet?   Didnít you work with Doug Leigh about two years ago on your jumps?

PC:  Doug and I just wanted to get it started, get the triple Axel started and the quad, so right now the second triple Axel seems a bit more realistic than when I did it at Worlds.  Itís already getting better, facility-wise, itís pretty easy, or easier!  Iíve started working on the quad toe already, and itís getting better, so itís much easier than when I first started doing it.  So right now the quad is easier.  Iím really happy with how it is right now, cause itís really not as hard as when I did it with Doug, so it seems a bit easier.  It might be because my strength has increased in the two years.

JS:  Will the triple Axel make an appearance consistently next season?

PC:  Yes, it should be, thatís my goal.

JS:  I know that Jeff has been successful without quads in the program.  Is that any sort of a contingency for you for two years from nowÖis it absolutely necessary for a skater with great artistry and other elements?

PC:  Yes (emphatically).  For the Olympics yes, and for other competitions, yes I think Iím not going to be like Joubert and criticize Jeff for not doing the quad but I think that a quad isÖ hey, why not do a quad when you can make other people be quiet, right?  I donít want to cause more drama and more people complaining that Iím not doing a quad.  So yeah, Iíll give it a shot.  Itís a high risk jump thoughÖ I studied and I looked and I said ďWow, to do a quad and two triple Axels, you lose a lot of points if you donít get those jumps done.Ē  We saw that at Worlds with Daisuke, when he missed the first quad he tried to do the second and then from there it was the domino effect and it was kind of a disaster waiting to happen.  So youíve got to consider the risk, but yeah I would want to put a quad in the program.  Listen to Patrick

JS:  I read in a recent review some strong praise for your skating.  But one writer mentioned that she is looking forward to you really emerging with a style of your own.  I think the quote was ďHeís still searching for one that says Patrick ChanĒ.  How do you feel about that, and do you think youíre close to developing it?

PC:  Yeah, definitely, we are in the process as we speak of doing that.  Last year was I was really skating artistically without much life or character, so this year weíre trying to make character in the program, really imitate a character or imitate a person in the story, as opposed to just being artistic and just being a modern ballet with no story.  So how thatís how last year wasÖthis year weíre trying to put life and a different mix into the programs.

JS:  So one thatís really programmatic and you can portray a character?

PC:  Yes.

JS:  The current scoring system, youíve really had an opportunity to grow up with for the most part.  Does the new scoring system tend to stifle creativity and personal touch?

PC:  Yes, unfortunately yeah.  Lori and I always rip our hair out because of that.  The new system has a lot of limits to what you can do and weíre so busy working on new things in order to meet the rules, that we donít have time to work on creativity.  So creativity has really, I think, diminished and itís missing that, unfortunately.  Because if you decide to work on creativity, youíre going to have to cut down somewhere else.  So youíre going to have to cut down on working on your spins, on making sure theyíre Level 4, because youíre working on getting creativity.  So thereís a risk to it, and many people donít want to take that risk.  So yes, creativity has really suffered because of this new system, unfortunately.  Itís hard to find creativity now.

JS:  Youíre stocking it so full of elements, I think it would be very jammed.

PC:  Yeah, exactly.

JS:  In January, the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto conferred upon you the 2007 Chinese-Canadian Youth of the Year designation.  There seems to be a lot of interest in you from Torontoís Chinese community.  Can you comment on that, perhaps in terms of seeing yourself as a role model?

PC:  Yeah, definitely.  I was really happy to get that award and really acknowledge the Chinese community because Chinese culture is very important to me and itís a very big part of my life because my family is pretty much 100% Chinese. I guess I want to show that even Chinese people can be champions, even in sports like basketball, I mean Yao Ming is a perfect example in basketball.  Weíre waiting for a hockey player (laughs), but you know itís bound to happen.  Chinese people can work very hard and are very determined at times, so I just want to motivate the Chinese youth to really go outside and try sports as opposed to maybe the traditional ďstay home and do the homework for 50 hours a dayĒ so I really want to motivate parents to let their kids go do some sports.  Listen to Patrick

JS:  I read a lot about Asian-Canadian personalities like that, Sandra Oh for example, who went into acting really against her parentsí wishes.  They didnít want her to do that, but she has become successful.  Are you looking more to encourage parents to support their kids?

PC Of course, not to be too worried about letting their kids do something else other than school.

JS:  Youíre improving your Cantonese I hear, and learning some Mandarin?

PC AhÖno!  (laughs)  The Cantonese is unfortunately not the greatestÖI try to speak more with my parents.  The Mandarin will come later, when I graduate high school.  I mean Iíll go and probably take some courses.

JS:  Has the immigrant experience of your parents left a strong impression on you, or helped you or inspired you in your skating?

PC YeahÖI donít know.  My parents immigrated at sort of a young age, and I was born in Canada so you donít have much of that immigration kind-of mindset, but sure, my parents always tell me these stories about China, and it kind of motivates me to work harder, you know, and see Iím lucky to have life in Canada and Iím not suffering somewhere else, especially also considering the state of Africa and all these people.  Obviously people are going to think about that.   So I just think about Iím lucky to have food on the table, and Iím lucky I can do something I enjoy as opposed to scavenging for food.

JS:  Has there been any interest in you from overseas, say from China or Hong Kong?  Or even from Japan?

PC Yeah, Japanís people are great of course, but on the Chinese side, yeah, people are very supportiveÖfrom overseas Chinese people from China or Hong Kong. But I want to reach out even more, to get even mainstream people in China to be interested in skating, and also in Japan and Korea.

JS:  I know in Japan and Korea that when thereís success by a certain athlete or team, the interest in that sport is overwhelming.

PC:  Yeah, itís amazing.

JS:  Iíve also read about your involvement with the Adopt-An-Athlete program, actively mentoring classes at an elementary school here, and how theyíve visited the Granite Club and have learned fitness training tips from you.  Can you describe the program in more detail and how you got involved?

PC:  Yeah, the Canadian Olympic Committee asked me to do this about two years ago.  They nominated me and I said yes, hey sure, why not, so I did it and so far every year Iíve tried to visit as much as I can, so at least two or three times a year.  And I go over and they bring all the kidsÖ  The first time was pretty informal, actually theyíre all informal, I just went to a small class of maybe fifteen and just talked and let them ask questions.  And then as the next year came, more kids cameÖ The last time I went, they brought all the kids into the auditorium and there was a lot of kids and they watched my video at Nationals and I just spoke to them a couple words of encouragement.  I just want to, like with the Chinese community, try to encourage them to do exercise and stay healthy and not be a couch potato at home.

JS:  Will this be an ongoing project until the 2010 Olympics?

PC:  For sure, yeah, I want to.  Unfortunately I might not have the time, but itís always fun, itís always good to see the kids.  They ask the weirdest questions, but it brings me back to reality and knocks you out of the figure skating mentality where itís focus and work hard all the time, and it veers me off path a bit and makes me forget about the stress.

JS:  Back to the NationalsÖ I think there was a question posed to you like ďDo you feel like the hunted rather than the hunter?Ē  And your answer was no, because you were quite new to the senior level.  Has that perspective changed at all in the three or four months since Nationals and since Worlds?  Are you seeing next year in a little different perspective than before?

PC:  Yeah!  Maybe on the international scene, on the Grand Prix series Iíll be a little bit hunted and not the hunter, because I had quite good success on the circuit last year and I won one of them, so I will feel a bit of it.  As for Nationals, thatís going to be interesting considering Jeff won the Worlds, I might not be the hunted anymore, he might be the hunted because Iím going to try to defend my title whereas people are going to think ďOK Jeffís going to take it because he won Worlds and itís pretty much a given.Ē  So itís going to be the same situation as last yearís Nationals in Vancouver.

JS:  Does it help psychologically a bit too, to be chasing?

PC:  Obviously, yes.  It definitely feels a bit better when you feel like he has to deal with all that pressure, and he has to deal with all the press.  I have less to deal with, which is good.

JS:  You mentioned also that you were relatively new in terms of the judges and may have been fresh to them.  Will the judges go through phases in terms of accepting you?  Will they expect more, or something different in the future?

PC:  They will be expecting something new, I can guarantee that, in the next couple years, because every year we want to try to do something different, or at least improve on what I had already.  Itís not that they go through phasesÖwhen they see a familiar face I think they become comfortable with the skater and they start to bring up the marks to another level, so thatís how they work, I believe.  Itís a matter of seeing the judges more often.  Because each time the panel changes so letís say maybe the first time only one of themís going to recognize you.  Hopefully the next time at least five are going to recognize you, so itís just a matter of being on the Grand Prix circuit and at Worlds a lot more, because Jeff was at Worlds for probably the eighth or ninth time, and this was my first time, so if it was my eighth time I think it would have been a bit different.  Listen to Patrick

JS:  Different in terms of marking?

PC:  Not the technical mark, because I think the judges canít do much about that, itís the program component part that can be a little bit higher.

JS:  Here is a question from Allynne, a lady from Japan, about travel.  During the past two seasons youíve visited a number of countriesÖ she listed France, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Sweden.  Can you tell us about any special on or off-ice memories, and which one was your favourite?

PC:  Iíd have to say that Germany, Junior Worlds in Oberstdorf in 2007, was a very nice place.  I remember it pretty clearly.  Itís a mountain town, so there are hotels and chalets, and we had a good team and it was really relaxing.  And I remember walking around the rink and there was a little village where you can buy stuff, and it was really, really nice, so I got to say Junior Worlds was the best.  Because Worlds is different, youíre stressed a bit moreÖ thereís more stress and less fun I think.

JS:  You actually got to see some of Oberstdorf, and not just the team bus?

PC:  Yeah, and the pairs skaters, they always get to walk around and check it out cause theyíre done so early, but a lot of people lock themselves in their rooms and stay there, because they donít want to deal with getting tired from walking and dealing with people, so they just lock themselves in their rooms.

JS:  Who are some of your skating heroes of the past, and some skaters you really admire now?

PC:  Kurt Browning was definitely a big supporter and big help and big role model in my skating career, because I see him once in a while and he always brings joy to skating, and Iíve always watched his show programs because theyíre so funny and he brings something new to skating.  Unfortunately, we canít do that at competitionsÖ I wish we could, because theyíd be so much more fun.  Heís always good, and no matter if Iím in a bad mood or Iím not skating well, and heís here, I always forget about it and itís a lot of fun.  So heís great.  Right now, I would say presently, of whoís skating right nowÖ I could say Lambielís skating I like.  Itís really nice, and his interpretation of the music is very good.

JS:  Iíve read that you prefer athletic activities off the ice, more than the mall, for example.  Do you have any other hobbies?

PC:  I play the piano, a bit of guitar, I just try to play around with it.  Iím nothing like my friends, but I just try, something different.  So I play piano, guitar, tennis, golf.  Iíd definitely rather play soccer with friends than going to the mall, where itís just kind of like just walk around and look at stuff.  I find that really boring. (laughs)

JS:  Are these other hobbies more like escapes for you, or is there anything that can add to your skatingÖsuch as the musicality?

PC:  Yes, music is very important I find, if you play any kind of instrument it helps a lot. Because I can pick up notes and the beat of the music, where some people canít even follow the music.  Like the compulsory dance is a perfect example, because people canít follow the tempo and I can tell that theyíre not following the tempo, so definitely music helps a lot.

JS:  We often ask skaters about social their life.  Are there any tradeoffs that youíve had to make, or anything you wish wasnít limited by your skating?  Would you like to do anything else that you really canít squeeze in?

PC:  I wish Iíd chosen a team sport, thatís one thing. Individual sports are kind of hard, because you have to motivate yourself and donít have people around you to motivate you.  Thatís one thing I wish I had done differently.  I really donít regret anything other than that, because my friendsÖ what do they do?  What I am missing out on, really?  Itís maybe going to a house party, and you know the rest.  I donít find any use in doing that because thatís just a waste of time, and you just do damage to your body.  Whereas with me, Iím doing something good for my body, so Iím staying healthy.  I think I just use my time wisely, because we donít live forever, you know?  And thereís times when I wish I could go out with my friends, there are times, and I can tell some of my friends kind of detach because Iím not there all the time, and I donít go to their house on Friday nights and stuff, just to hang out, because I canít.

JS:  Your friends you mentioned, do they tend to be skaters?

PC:  I was talking about school friends then.  I hang out with more skating friends, because they understand more and they understand my schedule and they can work around it, whereas my school friends I donít even want to explain.  What else am I going to say?  Obviously itís going to be skating, so they tend to be more like ďOk, whatever, you canít come, ok bye.Ē  Whereas my skating friends, they understand and try to work around it.  They might not skate anymore, but they used to skate, so they still understand.

JS:  When I talk to the Japanese skaters, their friends almost always seem to be skaters.  But you do seem to have a variety of friends.

PC:  Yeah, and thatís very important.  Even if theyíre kind of more difficult, definitely I find having friends outside of skating if very important.  You donít want to be stuck in skating all the time.  Youíd go crazy.  Youíre going to get bored of skating.  So thatís why I try to reach outside of skating and hang out with friends that donít skate and donít want to talk about it.

JS:  With the amount of time you put into skating and school and everything else, does that preclude any sort of special relationship at this point in time?

PC:  It would be difficult to date someone outside of skating, because they donít understand.  Like, how is your girlfriend going to feel when you say, ďSorry I canít go to a movie with you even though I really want to, because I have to skateĒ.  Itís like ďThen why donít you just take this day off, and come with me?Ē  ďBut really I canít, I have a competition next week.Ē  It would be easier to hang out with someone in skating, definitely to be dating someone in skating I would say.

JS:  The next few months, I know itís not really a true vacation for you.  You have a festival in Korea coming up?   What other things are ahead of you?

PC:  Ah, just little carnivals, I have AGM to go to, to promote the Nationals in Saskatoon.  Iím not too busy.  Right now, Iím almost at the end of my shows.  Iím in the home stretch right now.  And then weíre really going to focus on getting a new long and new short, thatís what it is right now, because Iím going to be leaving for Florida in June, and Lori canít come to Florida with me, so weíre going to have to get it done here before I leave.

JS:  Is Thornhill going to happen this year?

PC:  I donít think so.  Itís going to be like last year, Iím going to go to Liberty, which is in Pennsylvania.

JS:  Do you have a message for your fans, especially those writing in from Japan?

PC:  I really want to say thank you to all those people who support me, other than my parents of course.  My parents of course are always the biggest supporters.  The fans are the biggest thing out there.  Theyíre the ones who pretty much pay our bills in a way.  They keep skating popular and I just want more fans to come and watch.  So fans, tell your friends about skating and make them come and watch and hopefully weíll impress them, so definitely a big thank you to them.  Listen to Patrick

Japan Skates would like to thank Patrick for taking time out that day to give us such a great interview and allowing us to photograph his training session both on that day and again with Gigi on May 27.  Right after the interview, Patrick participated in a fun rapid-fire Question & Answer session with me.  He also did a live commentary on his gold-medal winning performance at Canadian Nationals.  Both the Q&A session and the live commentary can be seen at the interview photo and video page.  You can also listen to the Q&A in mp3 format.  It was a fun exercise and we hope to use it again for future interviews.

Following the interview and video session and before Patrick's next on-ice session, I chatted with Patrick's mom, Karen Chan, who also serves as his manager.  It was she who arranged the interview and we'd like to thank her for all her effort.  I gained a new appreciation for life as a skating parent and all the sacrifices, both personal and financial, that Canadian skaters and their families make to compete in their sport.  Gigi met Patrick and his mom on May 27th when we returned for photos.  We hope to come back and continue to cover Patrick's progress on his way to the Vancouver Olympics.

We hope that you enjoyed learning about Canada's affable national champion.  We may do some more interviews with non-Japanese skaters to expand our horizons and to respond to fan requests from Japan and other countries.  Stay tuned for more summer interviews...we have a lot in the works!

 
 

 

 



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