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Monday, March 11, 2013
Change of scenery makes for easy commute for Chan

Associated Press

LONDON, Ontario -- This might be the easiest trip Patrick Chan has ever taken.

The two-time defending champion has been training in Detroit the last three weeks, a mere two hours from the site of the World Figure Skating Championships. Instead of having to worry about flights, jet lag and lost luggage, Chan simply hopped in his car Monday, arriving an hour before his first practice at the main rink.

"It was so nice to be able to drive two hours," he said. "A very odd feeling, but it was definitely an advantage on my part to not have to get acclimated to the environment, to the rink. Everything is so familiar."

While the easy commute did play a role in his decision to stay in Detroit after the Canadian championships rather than return to his base in Colorado Springs, Colo., Chan said getting a change of scenery was even more important. He had an uncharacteristically rough start to the season, finishing second at Skate Canada in what was his first loss at a major competition in two years. His bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final was his worst finish since he was fifth at the Vancouver Olympics.

"I was very uneasy -- no confidence, very low self-esteem," he said. "Which is really odd for a two-time world champion."

And really troubling with the Sochi Olympics only a year away.

"I definitely was panicking a little bit," he said. "I wasn't skating as I normally was and I couldn't find my stride."

Chan wondered if it was something in his training, having parted ways with coach Christy Krall after last year's worlds. Or maybe it was something in his diet. Or, in the worst-case scenario, it was something in him.

"Maybe I'm not mentally tough enough," he recalled thinking. "It was really puzzling."

He talked with a few people who know him well and they all suggested training somewhere else, even if only for a few weeks. Chan has been in Colorado since shortly before the Vancouver Games.

The difference Monday was noticeable. Chan skated with the confidence and elegance that made him unbeatable in 2011 and 2012, one element better than the next in his short program run-through.

"Today was a good example of where I was at worlds in 2011," he said. "I wasn't stressed, I wasn't hesitant. I was just going with the flow."

While Chan attributes that to the "fun" he's been having in Detroit, where he's surrounded by "tons" of elite-level skaters from all over the world, he's not ready to make the move permanent.

"I love being in Detroit," he said. "But I love going to Colorado, too. I have established a life there. I have a car, I have a house, I have friends there. But I don't know if the environment at the rink is right."

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REMEMBERING SENDAI: Yuzuru Hanyu doesn't need an anniversary to recall the horrors of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe that devastated Japan's northeast coast.

He lived it.

Hanyu is from Sendai, the city that bore the brunt of the March 11, 2011, disaster. His home and the rink where he trained were both damaged during the earthquake and tsunami, and he had to relocate to Yokohama for about four months afterward. Though his mother came with him when the now 18-year-old moved to Toronto last year to train with Brian Orser, his father and sister remain in Sendai.

"Time flies since that disaster. On the other hand, it feels like a long time," Hanyu said Monday through a translator.

"Never forget the disaster. That's the most important thing."

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HOME ON THE ROAD: Though they grew up only a few minutes outside London, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won't be giving any tours this week.

The reigning Olympic and world champions in ice dance are trying to treat this week's World Figure Skating Championships like any other competition. They aren't going home for dinner or to sleep, opting to stay at the skaters' hotel instead. Rather than using their own cars, they're riding the bus to practice with all the other skaters. Even the trainer they work with in London has opted to stay away, since she isn't normally with them at competitions.

"That all makes a difference in separating ourselves from our friends and families to try and get in that competition zone we get in," Virtue said. "We're trying to stay as normal as possible."

To do that, Virtue and Moir will be drawing heavily on their experience in Vancouver. Though the Olympics weren't in their backyard, they may as well have been for the way Canadian fans embraced their athletes.

"We had to get into a bubble," Moir said. "We're hoping some of the distractions (here) will force us into that bubble."

Because while this may be old home week, it's still the world championships.

"We know we'll feel the warmth of the London crowd, we've skated there before," Moir said. "We want to go out and perform for them. But at the end of day, this is the world championships. We want that title."

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GETTING ADJUSTED: Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are doing their best to act as if they've been here before.

The first trip to the World Figure Skating Championships is a big deal for any skater, and it's bound to cause some nerves. But the U.S. pairs champions have no time for first-time jitters, not with worlds serving as the qualifier for next year's Sochi Olympics.

"We definitely noticed the signage" with the worlds logo, Shnapir said. "But it's a sign. It's just an ice rink. ... We're trying not to let anything else cloud our minds."

"We're not going to get too excited," Castelli added.

Besides, Castelli and Shnapir have been preparing for this week all year.

The two, who have skated together since 2006, took some time off after a disappointing season last year. When they decided to continue skating together, they made a commitment to put all of their energy and effort into each other and their skating and it's paid off. In addition to their first U.S. title, they were third at Four Continents.

They also won their first Grand Prix medal, a bronze at NHK Trophy.

"All of the time we spent this year, being in podium contention and Four Continents, has prepared us for this moment," Shnapir said.