‘No stone left un­turned’ in Chan’s ap­proach

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - LORI EWING

TORONTO — Even when Patrick Chan is at the top of his phys­i­cal game, his men­tal one is a crap­shoot.

“Usu­ally when I have a good skate, I’m not quite sure how it hap­pened,” Chan mused re­cently. “I can’t re­ally put my fin­ger on how or what I did to make it suc­cess­ful.”

So for the first time in his ca­reer, the three­time world fig­ure skat­ing cham­pion is ex­plor­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal side of com­pet­ing, en­list­ing the help of Dr. Scott Gold­man, a sports psy­chol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan.

It’s all part of the 26-year-old’s “no stone left un­turned” ap­proach to what will be his fi­nal Olympic ap­pear­ance next year in Pyeongchang.

He’ll put his new game plan to the test at this week’s ISU Four Con­ti­nents cham­pi­onships in South Korea, a test event for next year’s Olympics.

Chan has cap­tured three Four Con­ti­nents ti­tles, in­clud­ing last sea­son in Tai­wan where he climbed from fifth place af­ter the short pro­gram.

He’ll face a stiff test against teen star Nathan Chen, who reeled off five quadru­ple jumps in his long pro­gram to win the U.S. cham­pi­onships, and de­fend­ing Olympic cham­pion Yuzuru Hanyu of Ja­pan.

Chan has worked hard on the phys­i­cal side of his skat­ing since his re­turn from a one-year hia­tus, up­ping the num­ber of quads in his free pro­gram to three. But he’s been in­con­sis­tent, and be­lieves his men­tal game is the cul­prit. He fell three times in his long pro­gram at the Grand Prix Fi­nal in De­cem­ber, plum­met­ing from se­cond place down to fifth. Dur­ing the wait be­tween the warm-up and com­pet­ing, his nerves were fraz­zled.

“We all have our solutions, our tricks, or maybe our ways to brush the prob­lems un­der the rug kind of. And that’s my goal, is to be able to face these mo­ments of men­tal chal­lenge, and phys­i­cal chal­lenge,” Chan said. “We wouldn’t be at this level if we couldn’t meet the phys­i­cal chal­lenge, but to be at a higher level, the top of the top, is to master the whole brain side of it.”

Chan put his work with Gold­man to the test at the Cana­dian cham­pi­onships last month, where he won his ninth na­tional se­nior ti­tle. Af­ter the warm-up, he un­laced his skates and found a ta­ble to lie down on.

“I just laid on the ta­ble and got into breath­ing ex­er­cises, breath­ing vi­su­al­iza­tion,” Chan said.

The cere­bral skater is also read­ing a book — Steven Kotler’s “The Rise of Su­per­man” — that ex­plores the men­tal state of ex­treme ath­letes, and their abil­ity to get into a “flow state” (what oth­ers re­fer to as “the zone”).

“It’s very nat­u­ral, it’s in­nate in all of us. But it’s how do you get into that, how do you set your­self up for that kind of flow state?” Chan said.

“They say that peo­ple who med­i­tate, they can get into flow state through med­i­ta­tion ... ex­treme ath­letes get it in­stantly. Same thing with drugs, it’s why peo­ple take drugs, be­cause they get into that same feel­ing, the dopamine re­lease and all that stuff. Sex. Good food. All that stuff ties in to­gether.

“It’s cool, it’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause you be­come very aware, as op­posed to just guess­ing and be­ing like ‘Oh I guess this feels right. Oh, I guess I’ll skate well, be­cause I feel kinda good.’ Whereas now it’s more sci­en­tific, it’s clearer.”

The Four Con­ti­nents — Amer­i­cas, Asia, Africa, and Ocea­nia — is a fi­nal tune-up for the world cham­pi­onships in late March in Helsinki.

Aside from his men­tal game, Chan con­tin­ues to work on the phys­i­cal side to keep pace with the big jumpers such as Chen and Hanyu. He said the plan for next sea­son is to do two quads in his short pro­gram. He cur­rently does just one.

“I’ll also have to see how the re­sults turn out at worlds and how the men skate un­der that kind of pres­sure sit­u­a­tion,” Chan said.

SEAN KILPATRICK, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Canada’s Patrick Chan is fo­cus­ing on the men­tal side of his game as he pre­pares for the ISU Four Con­ti­nents cham­pi­onships in South Korea.

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