Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chan works on his greatest leap yet - the Olympics challenge

Already master of the skate blade, Patrick Chan has the challenge now of trying to master the roller-coaster ride. Because that's what he'll be on during the next 15 months before the Vancouver Olympics.

All eyes are turned onto the fresh-faced figure skater as Canada's greatest male skating hope, especially after the surprising retirement of world champion Jeffrey Buttle.

"Same plan. Same goals. Same everything," Chan said, by way of reaction.

Chan had dreamed of a rematch with Buttle in January at the 2009 Canadian championships in Saskatoon. Last January, Chan, of Toronto, had just turned 17 when he defeated three-time Canadian champion Buttle at the nationals in Vancouver.

That's a pretty big faceoff," Chan said, speaking of the extra pressure he would have been under to retain his title against such a competitor. "It's unfortunate that it's not going to happen. But now I can really focus on the international field and on who is going to be at the Olympics and worlds."

Chan will start his march to the world championships by competing at the Skate Canada Grand Prix, starting today in Ottawa. He'll meet two-time world bronze medalist Evan Lysacek of the United States, French skater Yannick Ponsero and Russia's best skater, Sergei Voronov.

The men's field as a whole is limping, with the added retirement of two-time world champion Stéphane Lambiel of Switzerland.

The best contest may come at the NHK Trophy in Japan, with the two top Japanese skaters taking on Johnny Weir, the world bronze medalist from the United States.

Chan, who finished ninth in the worlds last year, seems up to the challenge of seizing the spotlight this year. He'll meet former world champion Brian Joubert at the Trophée Bompard in Paris, an event the young Canadian won last year.

When he qualified for the Grand Prix Final last year, he was the youngest skater by five years. At the world championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, last March, Chan drew the same practice group as Joubert.

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