Gold medal favourite Patrick Chan has made the most of early arrival in Sochi

The Canadian Press

SOCHI, Russia - On Patrick Chan's first full day in Sochi, he misjudged the length of the walk from his room to the gym, and the length of the bus ride to the rink.

The three-time world champion ended up missing his first practice.

But the 23-year-old from Toronto — and self-professed creature of habit — arrived in Sochi several days ahead of the other skaters to iron out the kinks early, and the decision, he said, paid off.

"It's been quite an adventure," Chan said at a news conference Tuesday. "That was the reason I came early, so that I could get in that routine and make this here in Sochi a training environment for me, so it will be easy for me to start competing and feel at ease and calm on the ice.

"Having those days where I missed the practice, that's where I really learned about time management."

His early arrival last Friday also meant he had the ice all to himself for the first couple of days, a "huge advantage" for the skater who hopes to claim Canada's first ever Olympic gold medal in men's singles.

"In my whole career I haven't had a practice on my own in all the Grand Prixs I've been to," Chan said. "Who would imagine at the Olympics I'd have ice on my own? It was a huge help because at the end of the day when I compete I'm on my own, I'm on the ice on my own, there's nobody else on the ice.

"I really enjoyed it, also the fact I could play my music as many times as I wanted."

That first day though, Chan was slow to get out of bed, blaming the jet lag. He was late getting from his apartment to the gym at the Athletes Village. Then he had to wait for the bus. By the time he arrived for his scheduled practice, it was over.

Officials permitted him to practise in a later session. (Whether it was skating alone in the session he missed, or skating alone in the later session, it wasn't like he was disrupting other skaters.)

Arriving early and getting in a couple of extra practice sessions allowed Chan to get a better feel for the rink, and much like an actor likes to be comfortable on his stage, it's key, said Chan, in how he his connects to the audience and the judges.

"Figure skating is a performing sport, so you look around your surroundings a lot, and depending on how the atmosphere feels to you, it can affect how you perform your programs," Chan said.

"For me, the first day was a bit startling, very different lights, different boards, the sizing of the rink is very different, so all those factors play an important role. I'll be honest, the first two practices were rough, finally on the third day I was able to get my feet under me and feel like I've felt at home."

The opportunity to be alone kept him from thinking about his competition. It's been a constant battle to turn his brain off, an annoying habit he's still working on correcting.

"That's what I've been working on the last two or three weeks leading up to these Games is not busying myself thinking, 'Am I training as hard as the other skaters? Am I a better skater? Are my quads better than Yuzuru's (Hanyu) or Daisuke's (Takahashi) or whoever?

"It's been a constant battle, like the devil on my shoulder and the angel on my other side, it's a constant battle between positive and negative thoughts, thinking 'Oh, am I going to beat them even if I'm at my best?'"

Chan has been the skater to beat since winning three consecutive world titles. At the Trophee Bompard Grand Prix in November, he ran away with gold, smashing the world records in the short and long program and for overall score to finish a whopping 31 points ahead of second-place Hanyu.

But nagging at him still is the result of the Grand Prix Final in December, where the 19-year-old Hanyu, who trains in Toronto with Canadian coach Brian Orser, beat him for gold and broke his world record in the short program.

"There are a lot of thoughts that can go through my mind," he said. "But when I skate my best is when I literally just think about myself."

Chan said looking back over the last three years, his poor skates — what few there were — came down to mental preparation, and his inability to focus.

"When I won my first world championship in 2011 I had pinpoint focus on every element of my program. It was almost a blink of an eye and it was over, that's when you know you're in the zone, when things go by so fast it's because you're so pinpoint focused on one thing at a time," he said.

"Those first practices by myself, it was very easy to be focused only on myself."

Chan will be Canada's first skater to compete in Sochi. Skate Canada has confirmed that he will skate the team short program on Thursday.

The team combines scores from one entry in each of the men, women, pairs and ice dance, with team being permitted to make two changes to the lineup between the short and the long programs. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., is expected to skate the men's long program for Canada.

The 17-member Canadian team is not only the biggest skating squad ever assembled, but perhaps the one with the most promise. Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are looking for their second consecutive Olympic gold medal, while Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won bronze in pairs at last year's world championships.

Canada is ranked No. 1 in the team event, which should see Chan go home with two medals after he finished out of the medals in fifth in his Olympic debut four years ago in Vancouver,

He admits to carrying a lot of pressure on his slim shoulders, but said he learned in Vancouver that leaving without gold won't be the end of the world.

"When I came fifth, people were still partying like crazy outside, so I realize at the end of the day, it's for myself," he said. "If I win or not here, people will go on with their lives, I will go on with my life."

Liam Firus of North Vancouver, B.C., is Canada's entry in the individual men's singles, which begins with Feb. 13 with the short program.

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