NEWARK, Del. - NEWARK, Del. (AP) — No skater has a more daunting challenge at the Vancouver Olympics than Patrick Chan.
A Canadian man has never won the Olympic figure skating gold medal. They've come close, particularly Brian Orser earning silver in 1984 and 1988. Now, the pressure is on Chan to produce on home ice, and he won't run away from it.
"I know I'm going to be as excited as ever and that you have to block out distractions, of which there will be more than ever," says Chan, who turned 19 Thursday. "There will always be some distractions and if you're not able to cope with it, you are probably not ready for the Olympic Games.
Chan, who finished second at last March's world championships, prefers to look at the positive side.
"You can't blow this being the home games out of proportion," he says. "So you kind of downplay it and be comfortable with your situation at the Olympics. I think I've had enough understanding of what the expectations will be at the Olympics. Each athlete copes with it differently."
One way Chan has coped is by training in Florida and Delaware with Don Laws, who coached Scott Hamilton to four world titles and the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics gold medal. Chan believes he doesn't "get much of the craziness. I can focus on my training and what I have to do" away from Canada.
During an Olympic season, training becomes more intense and stressful, particularly if a skater is struggling with a certain element or is not completely comfortable with his programs or the choreography. There's also a greater need for patience because the Olympics dominate the competitive horizon.
"It's a lengthy process that has to be taken step by step," Laws says. "You can't rush it, and that's something many skaters must learn."
Patience is especially difficult for a teen who has so much so soon. Chan has won two straight Canadian titles, with nationals coming up in two weeks. He went from second at junior worlds to ninth at seniors to second in three seasons. Chan also won Four Continents last year. With a calf injury shortening this season, he struggled to sixth place at Skate Canada in November, falling three times in his free skate.
Chan recognizes how much more progress he must make to push current world champ Evan Lysacek, returning Olympic gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko, former world winners Brian Joubert and Stephane Lambiel, and the top Japanese skaters.
"You know the Olympics are all about faster, higher, stronger, and that's exactly true," Chan says, smiling broadly, as if memories of Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Ilia Kulik, Alexei Yagudin and Plushenko brilliantly skating off with the gold are flooding his mind. "All of the other athletes, whether it's skaters or any of the athletes, will be at their best, at their peaks. You don't doubt you will be able to be at your best and that is what you prepare for.
"The difference between the champion and, say, the silver medalist will be who has the most challenging program and nails it. So it's a good thing the program is so difficult."
The free program will be to "Phantom of the Opera."
Sure, Phantom is among the most used skating music, from novices on up. When done well, though, it can be lyrical, powerful, happy, sad, inspirational or distressing — all in the same routine.
Chan has always wanted to skate competitively to Phantom. When renowned choreographer Lori Nichol suggested it, Chan took all of 2 seconds to reply "Yes."
He immediately knew which character he would portray, but Chan attended the Broadway version to compare that interpretation of the musical to his.
"When Lori and I chose the program, we definitely saw it as me as the Phantom. It shows the suffering of the Phantom, his love for Christine, and his fighting the anger and the frustration he has.
"That (Broadway show) was the best of the best, and it gave me a new kind of motivation just watching it. It is a refreshment of the story. I so enjoyed the show, and I could picture myself doing it.
"I wish," he added with a sly chuckle, "we could use props."
That would be rhythmic gymnastics, Patrick, not figure skating.
Chan is hopeful of seeing other sports in Vancouver, especially hockey. Men's figure skating finishes Feb. 18, not even halfway into the overall schedule, and Chan plans to play fan/spectator/tourist as much as possible.
"I'm also looking forward to meeting Sidney Crosby in the Olympic Village. I hope I get the chance to," he says. "Being able to meet all of the other athletes, and especially the hockey players, and to watch a game, will be very special.
"Only a handful of people make it to the Olympics, and I want to remember it as something I never regret. So I want to do as much as possible. But first I have to focus on my event. After I am done, I can really enjoy it."
With a gold medal draped around his neck, of course.