TORONTO - When Patrick Chan was feeling the pressure before making his Olympic debut, he reached out to a Canadian athlete who was shouldering perhaps the greatest pressure of all.
Chan's drive to the rink four years ago in Vancouver included a phone call to Sidney Crosby.
The two share a common trainer in Andy O'Brien, who was in the car with Chan that day.
"I told Andy I was nervous, who wouldn't be, I was really nervous about the event. Andy was like 'Oh I'll call Sid,'" said Chan, who opens his season next week at Skate Canada International.
"We talked about expectations and at the end of the day, he told me 'Yeah, the Canadian hockey team has the most pressure out of all the events.' The way he put it in perspective was that we train every day and we train every day to kind of build an automatic pilot, and in order to initiate that automatic pilot when you're playing, you have to put it in perspective.
"For example, my mentality is that this isn't the end of the world, people will support me because they want me to win, and they want the best for me and they want a medal for Canada, and I accept that. But then I have to be selfish in a way and realize I'm doing it for myself and that was the mistake I made in Vancouver. I wanted to win the medal for Canada, and I looked at it as a big picture instead of narrowing it down to me wanting to be there, and me wanting to compete and excited to compete, and eager to win a medal."
Chan, who was 19 in Vancouver, went on to finish fifth in his first Olympics, while Crosby, of course, scored the winning goal in Canada's thrilling victory over the U.S. for gold.
Four years later, the pressures have changed for Chan, who talked about his preparations for Sochi in a wide-ranging conference call Tuesday that touched on everything from the gay rights controversy in Russia to his move to Detroit.
Chan, who spoken about Russia's controversial gay laws before saying he plans to focus on skating, said Tuesday he believes that "everyone deserves a fair chance."
"I always believed, it doesn't matter what colour, what race, what gender, or what's your opinion on gays, it doesn't matter as long as you have the talent and you work hard and you have something to show and something to prove, anyone deserves to be on the field, and especially in the Olympic Games," Chan said. "That's my opinion. Figure skating, we're full of gays, and I train with a lot of gay skaters, and some of them are my best friends, and honestly it doesn't bother me. I just honestly believe everyone deserves to be on the ice to compete."
The Toronto skater said he'll be fending off a different kind of pressure in Sochi, where he'll come in as a three-time defending world champion.
"Vancouver was a pressure because it was a thought of winning a gold medal at home, I put that pressure on myself, like 'Oh my god the dream of all dreams would be to win and Olympic gold medal in your home country and hearing your anthem in Canada.'
"Sochi is different. . . coming in as three-time world champion, you put expectations on yourself, there's a lot of talk. 'Is this the year that he's not going to put it together, and he's going to be dethroned?' I think I have many more tools going into Sochi to overcome those pressures."
Chan, who will be 23 in Sochi — his birthday is New Year's Eve — has learned to shift his priorities. He's figured out how to narrow his focus, which goes back to Crosby's call in the car ride to the rink.
"If you look at the Olympics as a mountain, it's like Mount Everest, it's impossible. You already start beating yourself up, just like my long program. My long program is my nemesis because I look at it as a huge mountain I have to climb that's going to kill me and I'm going to be out of breath and exhausted at the end.
"But it doesn't seem so bad if I cut it down into portions. For Mount Everest I would focus on reaching the first base camp, then reaching the second base camp, then reaching the third, then you can get to the top. You have to look at it in stages and not try to sprint to the top."
Chan said he's a much happier skater than he's been in a while, and credits his move to Detroit. Chan pulled up stakes in Colorado Springs and drove to Detroit a couple of weeks before last spring's world championships.
He made the move, he said, to reinvigorate his career after his motivation had seeped out of him in Colorado. Detroit has become his "comfort zone" in the months since.
"It's funny, the rink in Colorado was full, like 25 people on the ice, which is insane, and that was international skaters mixed with national level skaters. There was 25 skaters yet I still felt alone on the ice," he said. "It was beyond motivation, I was not motivated, I was just more frustrated because there was so many people."
In Detroit, there are usually about eight elite skaters on the ice, including U.S. team member Jeremy Abbott, and rising Canadian skater Elladj Balde.
"Coming here, I was worried I was not going to be able to make friends and would be alone again. but that was totally not the case," he said. "We all get along, so we all move for each other, we all respect each other, we all push each other, we all motivate each other. And then if I have a bad day, I can get off the ice and sit in the lobby and have my lunch with Elladj and totally forget about the session and just laugh about things outside of skating.
"Those little things go a long, long way. We come in every day, and it gets monotonous, it gets boring, it's frustrating, so it's good to have your friends around and have people who support you and make you laugh and make you forget about skating once in awhile."