Patrick Chan

Patrick Chan’s return about more than elusive Olympic gold medal

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Patrick Chan initially felt like his peak had passed after taking silver at the Sochi Olympics, but Canada’s three-time World champion will return to figure skating competition after one year off not necessarily to earn more medals but to expand his skating repertoire.

“Of course, some people may say, oh, you’re coming back because you want to win an Olympic gold medal,” Chan said Tuesday. “Sure, maybe that’s at the back of my mind, but that’s something I want to learn to and teach myself in the next couple of years to not look at coming back and competing because of a medal, just a stupid, little medal.”

Chan quickly corrected himself.

“It’s not very little,” he said. “It’s very big and heavy.”

Chan, 24, said he would have returned to competition even if he became the first Canadian men’s figure skater to grab Olympic gold in 2014. He said any achievements the rest of his career will be “a bonus.”

“For example, after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, I thought I had done the best I could and thought I had already improved as much as I could, but little did I know I still had a lot to improve on and get better,” said Chan, who finished fifth as a teenager under host-nation pressure in 2010. “After the Games in Sochi, I felt like I had peaked, but I spoke to Kathy [Johnson], my coach, and we both decided I still have a lot to achieve, not necessarily results-wise but more personal achievement as in expanding my vocabulary in movement and my vocabulary in skating and choreography and being able to express and skate different kinds of style and become a better, more well-rounded skater.”

Chan said in September that he would return to competition in the 2015-16 season after taking the 2014-15 season off. Expect to see a different skater this fall. For one, Chan said he will add vocal lyrics to his skating, to a type of music he hasn’t performed to before.

Chan’s perspective was molded by activities where his “life [was] on the line” in his season away from competition — such as back-country skiing and skydiving. He also has an ice wine label coming out in June.

The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette convinced Chan to skydive while on the Stars on Ice tour in Florida.

“Joannie has jumped many times,” said Chan, who also planned to go skydiving with Rochette and other skaters later Tuesday in Montreal.

Chan said he was very scared and “contemplated life” while skydiving. He compared the feeling inside while ascending in an airplane to the six-minute warm-up before an Olympics or World Championships medal skate.

“Waiting and waiting,” he said. “The anticipation was very similar. But the minute I jumped out, for sure the first two, three seconds were the scariest, but after that such a great rush. … It makes me realize how small I am, and not to bash on the figure skating world, but how small the figure skating world is.”

Chan stayed abreast of men’s figure skating in his absence. He watched some competitions, but not all. The only World Championships event he said he watched live was the ice dance.

Chan said he skimmed through the programs of World Championships gold medalist Javier Fernandez and silver medalist Yuzuru Hanyu on YouTube.

“That in itself says a lot, the fact that I skimmed through it,” said Chan, who won the 2011, 2012 and 2013 World Championships before being toppled by Hanyu at the Sochi Olympics. “It wasn’t because I dislike them. … I admire a lot of elements of their programs, it’s just that that’s what it is. I literally fast-forwarded to their jumps, their biggest jumps, and then that’s it. I stopped watching. … Their skating hasn’t changed. It doesn’t look like it’s any different. They’re skating to the same pieces of music style. Javi has that like a Charlie Chaplin style. It totally works for him. It’s great, but I’d like to see him do a classical piece.

“I found that the men’s event [for the whole season] was, as I expected, nothing too special, no offense. It was very exciting competition. Of course, technically, everyone did all the quads. We’ve had two, three seasons of these quads coming back into the men’s field, so that’s to be seen as to be expected now. I look to the skaters who are pushing the boundaries, program-wise.”

Like the French ice dance couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who at 19 and 20 became the youngest World ice dance champs in 40 years. Chan said he got goosebumps watching their “enchanted” skating on his computer on a desk.

“It’s not just the guns blazing, just the jumps,” Chan said. “I like the subtlety of enjoying actual skating that’s actually beautiful and tells the story.”

Chan and his coach had talks about coming back, and the skater summed his mindset.

“I’m still young, I’m still healthy, knock on wood, so why not take advantage of that?” he said. “I don’t want to be 40 years old and look back and say, Patrick, you should have gone for it instead of hesitating.”

Figure skaters recall odd gifts from fans

U.S. men look to fill Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte void at worlds

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With Michael Phelps retired and Ryan Lochte suspended, the superstars at the world swimming championships clearly lie on the women’s side.

But the men’s events will include world-record chasers, a stinging rivalry and, perhaps, the emergence of Phelps and Lochte’s successor as leading U.S. man.

Caeleb Dressel came through in Rio under arguably the most pressure of any swimmer, starting off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team in his very first Olympic splash with a personal-best time.

Dressel, a 20-year-old who nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, has nine events to choose from at worlds in Budapest starting Sunday.

He qualified in four individual events — 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles — and is eligible for all five relays (two mixed-gender).

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Phelps and Lochte.

Dressel is in the medal mix in all of his individual events, ranking No. 1 in the world this year in the 100m fly, No. 3 in the 50m free, No. 4 in the 100m free and No. 5 in the 50m fly. He is also almost guaranteed medals in any relays that he enters given the unmatched U.S. depth.

Dressel has never been to a worlds and raced just one individual event in Rio. He’s the potential breakout star on a U.S. team, surrounded by more proven names.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

Ryan Murphy, who swam for the same Jacksonville, Fla., club team as Dressel, swept the backstrokes in Rio and broke the 100m back world record leading off the medley relay. That dominance has not quite carried over so far in 2017. Murphy ranks third in the world in the 100m and 200m backs this year.

Chase Kalisz, a longtime Phelps training partner in Baltimore, has followed up his Rio Olympic 400m individual medley silver medal well this year. He chopped two seconds off his personal best in the 200m IM and goes into Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400m IM by nearly a half-second.

The U.S. boasts more medal threats including Nathan Adrian (sprint freestyles), Townley Haas (200m free), Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes (breaststrokes), but nobody is a clear favorite.

The surest bets are world-record holders Adam Peaty and Ippei Watanabe in the breaststrokes and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m free. Paltrinieri could challenge a five-year-old world record held by Sun Yang.

Speaking of Sun, the mercurial Chinese superstar is set to renew his rivalry with Australian Mack Horton. In Rio, Horton memorably called Sun “a drug cheat,” in reference to Sun’s three-month suspension in 2014 for using a banned stimulant.

Horton then went out and beat Sun in the 400m freestyle, dethroning the Olympic and world champion. Horton and Sun could face off in four individual events in Budapest.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Sun has been two seconds faster than Horton this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Olympic silver medalist France won’t defend world title; U.S. favored

Monday, July 24
100m breaststroke — Peaty has the eight fastest times ever and fastest by .95 this year

Tuesday, July 25
200m freestyle — Haas the only man within .64 of Sun in 2017
100m backstroke — Rio silver medalist Xu Jiayu was .01 shy of Murphy’s WR in April

Wednesday, July 26
200m butterfly — Japan and Hungary lead the post-Phelps-era world; Chad le Clos ranks 8th in 2017
800m freestyle — Italian Gabriele Detti fastest in 2017 by six seconds, but slower than Sun’s winning times in 2011, 2013, 2015

Thursday, July 27
200m individual medley — Phelps, Lochte won the last 12 Olympic/world titles
100m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel

Friday, July 28
200m backstroke — U.S. won 14 of the last 15 Olympic/world titles, including Murphy in Rio
200m breaststroke — Watanabe broke WR in January; surprise Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin ranks No. 127 this year
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S., without Lochte, Phelps, looks to take world title back from Great Britain

Saturday, July 29
50m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel
100m butterfly — Joseph Schooling eyes Phelps’ WR, but Dressel ranks No. 1 in 2017

Sunday, July 30
400m individual medley — Kalisz ranks No. 1 in 2017, but time is .94 slower than Kosuke Hagino in Rio
1500m freestyle — Sun holds WR of 14:31 but hasn’t broken 14:55 since 2014
4x100m medley relay — Great Britain will lean on Peaty to challenge U.S.

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

Katie Ledecky eyes more history as women to star at swimming worlds

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The year after the Olympics isn’t always known for it, but there should be fireworks in the women’s events at the world swimming championships in Budapest next week.

Katie Ledecky could match Missy Franklin‘s record of six gold medals at a single worlds by swimming one more event than she did at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. Judging by Ledecky’s times at the U.S. Championships last month, the rising Stanford sophomore is in her usual dominant form.

Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, swimming in front of her home fans, could try to equal Ledecky with four individual golds in backstrokes and individual medleys.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom could do the same in the 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles, where world records are under threat.

Ledecky, Hosszu and Sjostrom are all bidding to become the first women to three-peat in an individual event at worlds.

Then there’s the return of the greatest rivalry in swimming. After their memorable Rio duel, King and Yulia Efimova rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year in all three breaststrokes.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte and American Leah Smith have never won an individual world title, but they could be the busiest swimmers of all next week.

Belmonte could race 7,4000 total meters if she makes every event final. Smith could get up to 7,000 meters. Both would outdistance Ledecky and Hosszu in mileage.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

The women’s program could have been even more loaded if not for two notable absences. Australian Cate Campbell, the 100m freestyle world-record holder, is sitting out world champs.

Australia beat the U.S. in the 4x100m free relay at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, but without Campbell, the Americans are about even with the Aussies. Ledecky’s bid for six golds could hang on this race on the opening night.

Ledecky also greatly benefits from Sjostrom’s decision to skip the 200m freestyle. In Rio, Sjostrom was the closest swimmer to Ledecky in her individual events, coming .35 shy in the 200m free while outsplitting Ledecky in the final 50 meters.

Key women’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Ledecky hasn’t lost a 400m free since the 2012 Olympic Trials
4x100m freestyle relay — Showdown with Campbell-less Australia crucial for Ledecky’s six-gold bid

Monday, July 24
100m butterfly — Sjostrom’s only competition is her world record of 55.48
200m individual medley — Nobody has been within a second of Hosszu this year

Tuesday, July 25
100m backstroke — Kylie Masse was .09 off the longest-standing women’s swimming world record at Canadian Champs
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 25 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Efimova is .13 faster than King this year

Wednesday, July 26
200m freestyle — Ledecky’s toughest individual event made easier by Sjostrom’s absence

Thursday, July 27
200m butterfly — Olympic champ Belmonte eyes first world title; Nos. 2, 3, 4 from Rio absent
4x200m freestyle relay — China is strong, but Ledecky is the U.S.’ ace in the hole

Friday, July 28
100m freestyle — Heavy favorite Sjostrom .02 off the world record in June
200m breaststroke — Efimova is two seconds faster than second-ranked King this year

Saturday, July 29
200m backstroke — Kathleen Baker can inherit throne from retired Maya DiRado 
800m freestyle — Likely Ledecky’s sixth and final event, could match Franklin’s gold record

Sunday, July 30
50m freestyle — No. of sub-24-second times this year — Sjostrom: 6; Rest of World: 0
400m individual medley — Hosszu, after breaking WR by two seconds in Rio, slower this year
4x100m medley relay — U.S. should gap Australia, China on breaststroke leg

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

*Correction: The integrity of a Lilly King quote attributed to Agence France-Presse in earlier version of this story has been called into question and was removed.