HELSINKI — Out on the practice ice at Hartwell Arena, Patrick Chan tries to stay in his own head space, avoiding the sideways glances at young stars such as Nathan Chen.
It's not easy, as Chen reels off quadruple jumps with the ease that comes with unencumbered youth.
Chan competes at the world championships this week in a men's event that has suddenly and irrevocably become all about the quad jump. The 26-year-old from Toronto can only hope his own brand of skating, which is as much about the other elements such as spins and skating skills, is enough against the high flyers like Chen.
The 17-year-old American became the first skater in history to land seven quad jumps in competition — two in the short program, five in the long. Chen, who is making his world championship debut after his meteoric rise, did it twice. He's landed an incredible 18 consecutive quads.
Chan has three quads in his long program, but has yet to land all three. Because he scores so highly on elements, the Canadian knows a clean program would put him in the mix.
"I would be within reaching distance. But it's hard to believe that, right?" Chan said after a practice session at Hartwell Arena. "Because it does sometimes feel like they are getting ahead. And I'm trying so hard to keep up and they keep getting further and further, because they add quads like it's nothing. Mid-season. They're like 'I feel like doing another quad, so I'm going to do another one.'
"They just keep pushing the limits. I think that's the greatness of being young, they don't put too much thought into anything really."
Chan captured three world titles between 2011 and 2013, and then took a year and a half off competing. He returned to find skating's landscape had been completely repainted, and a glance at the young skaters on the rise says there's no going back.
Among others that will challenge for gold are Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, who beat Chan for gold at the Sochi Olympics and has since upped his quad attempts to five in the long program, Spain's Javier Fernandez, Japan's Shoma Uno, and Chinese quad specialist Boyang Jin.
"It's a little more exciting I think for the audience, because it's a little less predictable results-wise," Chan said. "You have five guys to choose from, really. And I hope I'm in that group of five, and I do believe I am. Even though I don't have the quad Lutz or the quad flip or the quad loop like everybody else.
"We all have our strengths and weaknesses, mine being my skating skills. Everyone knows that," he added. "My goal is to put all that together, put that with the jumps, the toe (quad toe loop) and the Sal (quad Salchow). Which I think is plenty technically. The others have great jumps. They're great in one area, but lacking other areas. I think that's where I make up the ground."
Chan has changed up his practice protocol in Finland, and credits it to a minor injury he suffered two weeks ago in training. Chan was doing a backwards stroking drill — simple backwards skating — with coach Oleg Epstein, and strained both his hip flexors.
"Just the motion of pulling my feet in, somehow strained a muscle that I never use," Chan said. "Marina (Zoueva, his other coach) gave Oleg some trouble and he felt so bad."
Chan took the following day, a Wednesday, off completely and returned feeling refreshed.
"Thursday ended up being a great day because I was rested. I told Marina that when I'm rested it's actually a lot easier because I just feel lighter and sharper. So we kind of want to bring that here. Usually I treat the practices almost like training sessions, whereas now I'm pacing myself properly, getting myself prepared for the event, so that I can save my energy for the event instead of being kind of exhausted for the event.
"It's just a different approach. Really, it's more for next year. It kind of makes sense with how my body is changing and getting a little older. I kind of have to be a little smarter. It's hard not to push yourself in practice, seeing other guys go crazy, jumping like crazy. I just have to stick to my plan."
Chan has avoided many of the big jumps he'd normally do at practice here.
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Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press