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Change of scenery: Chan switches up pre-Olympic training base to Vancouver

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Days after missing the Skate Canada International podium for the first time in eight years, and with only a few months left of his competitive career, Patrick Chan felt stuck.

He craved a change of scenery, and a better sense of balance. So he headed west, where he travelled for a couple of weeks before settling in Vancouver.   

"I felt like I had the blues a bit, I just couldn't push myself to go to the rink and get really good work done," Chan said.

The three-time world champion was fourth at Skate Canada in October in Regina, plummeting from second after an error-filled free skate. He then withdrew from NHK Trophy a couple of weeks later in Japan, which automatically eliminated him from December's Grand Prix Final.

Chan, who turns 27 on New Year's Eve, spent a good week and a half off the ice, travelling to Tofino, a picturesque beach town on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and Bowen Island, which sits at the entrance to Howe Sound and is a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers.

He's been in Vancouver since, where he plans to stay at least through next month's national championships.

"The lifestyle of Vancouver does seem to really draw me towards there," Chan said.

Chan said Marina Zoueva, his coach in Canton, Mich., supported the move, telling him "'Patrick, whatever makes you happy, I'm happy you've found a place where you could regain that energy,' and kind of the drive, the push," he said.

"They've done so much for me, and I really wanted it to be an open-book policy, I didn't want it to be 'Oh I'm running away,' and not letting them know. So I kept things very open."

He said he and Zoueva speak every week or two. But for now, his training is a team effort that includes Elizabeth Putnam, a former pairs skater who writes training plans for many of the top skaters in Vancouver's Lower Mainland, plus Skate Canada physiologist Kelly Quipp, among others.

Chan was flying from Toronto to Edmonton on Monday night to work with Ravi Walia, coach of world silver medallist Kaetlyn Osmond.

Walia, who used to be a caller — a specialist on the judging panel who identifies and calls a program's elements, and their level of difficulty — has already been instrumental in rejigging a couple of jumps in Chan's free program.

"He's been great, he has a very analytical mind," Chan said. "He mentioned my element order was a bit off, so we had to switch things around."

Chan's coach at the national championships, Jan. 8-14, is still to be determined, but "whoever is going to be a nationals is going to be at Olympics, that's for sure," he said. "It's things to think about, but I'm also not in a rush to plan things so far ahead."

Chan joined veteran ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe, and Para-Nordic star Mark Arendz at an airplane hangar at Pearson International Airport where Air Canada announced an extension of its partnership as the official airline of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams. The deal runs through at least the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Sitting in the shadow of a gleaming white and red Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Chan talked about heading into his final Olympics, and the mental and physical grind of his sport. If he'd had this to do all over, he would have sat done with the likes of Clara Hughes or Cindy Klassen, to figure out how best to approach.

"Looking back at it, it feels like, especially now, I spend about two years in one place training, and after two years, it's like a real challenge, because the first year is like the honeymoon phase," he said. "Whether it's just the rink, or outside the rink, you get into a routine and you lack inspiration, you lack the energy to push yourself."

His move west, he said, has been that energy boost he needed.

Japanese star Yuzuru Hanyu, who won gold ahead of Chan at the 2014 Sochi Games, also announced Monday he wouldn't skate at his national championships this week after falling last month in training and injuring his ankle.

"It's been a weird year, we've all had our ups and downs, our own challenges, we deal with them our own way," Chan said. "It makes for an exciting Olympics. Anything can happen, which is awesome.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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