Chan the man to beat

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

SASKATOON -- A year ago, he was "The Next One."

Now he's "The One."

"It's happened pretty quick," admits Patrick Chan, the kid who turned 18 on New Year's Eve and is suddenly the marquee man at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships despite the fact a Canadian won gold at the world championships last year, a dance duo won silver and a pairs team won bronze.

"I can't believe it. Last year he was just Patrick Chan. Now I'm reading the Globe & Mail and he's voted one of the 30 most influential people in Canadian sport" said world silver medal-winning ice dancer Scott Moir.

"It's not like I thought about who I was going to be," said Chan yesterday, surrounded by media at the opening press conference.

Not that he has a problem with it.

Chan admits he grew up wanting to be famous.

DREAMS

"Everybody dreams of having this much attention. But it's not like I'm walking around saying 'Oh my God, I'm getting famous!' One of the things Kurt Browning has taught me is not to get a big ego -- and to keep close friends close to you."

The stupid thing, says this highly likeable teenager, is that he doesn't feel any pressure.

None at all.

"When it comes to pressure, I actually feel it less. Maybe by the time I get to the Olympics, I'll feel it more," he said.

"I have a margin for error right now. I'm lucky to be so young. I look at all the little hiccups as being a help in dealing with things down the road."

Chan, who begins competition tonight in the men's short program, admits it's highly unusual in a sport where the defending world champion retires because he sees there's a kid coming along who he's not going to be able to compete against.

"It was quite a compliment," he allowed of Jeff Buttle's retirement.

"It was definitely a surprise. I guess he figured it was as good as it was going to get."

It was good for Chan in terms of timing.

"It made me face the international scene instead of the national scene. Instead of asking 'What is Jeff doing?' I'm asking 'What is Brian Joubert doing?'

"But I miss Jeff very much. He was the best mentor you could have," said the kid who beat Buttle to win the Canadian championship last year before Buttle went to Worlds and bottled lightning.

Last year, going into this event, the big question was if Chan had time to develop enough to be a contender for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

"Right now I think I'm on time," he said.

The challenge for Chan here is to prove he can do the triple axel.

It comes and goes with him. And at last look it was gone.

"The triple axel has not been in his back pocket," observes CBC commentator and Chan mentor Browning.

"He hasn't got it. He needs to deliver it at the Canadians. He has to get a few triple axels out there and get his momentum back."

FIFTH

Chan won two Grand Prix events and went into the Grand Prix final ranked No. 1 when the momentum went away, and he finished fifth.

"I'm trying to tame it," says Chan. "The triple axel has been driving me nuts. I've been pulling my hair out.

It's been a concern, but I'm comfortable and consistent with it coming here."

Chan says he's confident he'll not only have his triple axel secure by this time next year, but that he'll have his quad in time for the Olympics next year.

"I'm not having as much trouble with the quad as the axel," he said.

When Chan skates here tonight, he'll be pretending it's Vancouver.

"It'll be a simulation. I'm thinking Olympics. I think of Vancouver 2010 a lot. Every night before I go to bed, I think about being in the Olympic Village and being in the opening ceremonies."


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