Joseph Phan of Team Canada
One of Canada's poised Junior skaters, Joseph Phan, is working on his comeback after a less satisfying season on the international circuit. Although he did not reap the rewards he expected to, Joseph is gaining confidence in himself through his first year of training under famed Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson and the rest of the delightful Toronto Cricket Club team. After placing third at JGP Czech Republic and fourth at Canadian Nationals, I spoke to Joseph about his skating career, his rinkmates, and K-Pop!
LP: Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you got to where you are today?
JP: I’m seventeen years old, I am ¾ Vietnamese and ¼ Chinese. I started skating when I was five years old and it was when I was trying many different sports like swimming and gymnastics—I tried that for a day and apparently I didn’t really like it and I was crying like crazy. I also did soccer for five years. Apparently, when I put my skates on for the first time, I was enjoying it and I was improving really fast. My parents decided to keep me in skating because at that time, I didn’t really have a conscience and I didn’t really know what I was doing. They felt like it was a good sport for me so I kept skating and skating until grade 6. Then I moved to Montréal to train with a better coach because I was improving really fast. I trained in Montréal for a year with this coach called Nathalie Martin. After that, I moved to Rosemére, which is right beside Montréal and I trained with [Yvan Desjardins] for five years. After that, when we felt like I had to change coach[es], it was time for me to train in better skating facilities and better skaters. We decided to move to Brian when we thought it was the right moment and now I’m here. I am training in Toronto at the Toronto Cricket Club with Brian Orser, Tracy Wilson, and their whole team. It was a really rough start of the season and it slowly and gradually got better throughout the year. That’s pretty much it.
LP: Coming into this season, were you confident? Did you have any doubts?
JP: Yeah. When I moved to Cricket, I was expecting to be really good and have no problems at all with skating and I was overestimating it. When I went to my first competition, it didn’t really go as well as I thought and it kind of lowered my confidence for the next competitions. During training, I felt like I wasn’t improving anymore and that’s where all of my self-doubts came into play, which really affected my training and confidence. Let’s just say that I was not as confident as I thought I would be going into this competitive season and I’m slowly working on it and I feel like I’m back to where I was before, which I feel like it’s a bit late because my competitive season is already over. But I have to work on it for next year’s [season].
LP: Are your performances from the Junior World Championships up to your personal standards? What could you have done to improve?
JP: That competition was a really good learning experience because it was actually one of my best competitions of the year, even though I did that thing in the long program, where I did a karate kick in the air that nobody has done before—well probably someone has done it before. (laughs) My short program was really good, I felt comfortable. I was actually really nervous during my two programs and I managed and worked through it by listening to a lot of music. It was a really good experience I got from this competition. By missing my first jump in my long program, I was still able to do the rest and not make it crumble and miss everything after. I feel like that was a good step.
LP: At least to me, your short program had a really different vibe from the rest of the programs I’ve seen throughout the season and the competition. Did you get to choose it yourself?
JP: Actually, it was my old coach, [who] I used to train [under] in Montréal. He actually picked it out for me. He found that because I like dancing and I was really good at it. He [said], “Let’s find music that really matches that style.” My coach’s wife found that music, “Million Eyes” [by Loïc Nottet] and she recommended it to me. At first, we were a bit “eh, I don’t think it’s gonna be good,” but then we gave it a try. I feel like it was a good decision [to do] this program. Usually, I pick out my music and I have consent with my coach and the choreographer, but this time, I put my trust in my coach and he picked it out for me and I liked it too. It was really different from a lot of other music because now that we can have voices in our programs, unlike before it was only classical music in our program.
LP: Do you think your move to Toronto Cricket Club and your new coaches was worth it? What is like to work with Brian Orser and the rest of the skaters?
JP: I was actually a bit overwhelmed when I got there. I used to always train at a rink where there are boards, like a normal rink, where there are no mirrors on the ice, there’s a window right beside the rink, and there are parents. There’s always the same parents that sit by the same tables and watch their kids skating, which I kind of felt like they’re always judging me and stuff, I didn’t really comfortable, but I just had to get used to it. Training with [the elite skaters] was more fun and less intimidating than I thought it would be because when you’re on the ice, they just do what they have to do, they just train, it’s not they are watching you all the time. They just focus on themselves, [the] same for me. I was expecting them to be machines and nailing everything all the time and being perfect, and that was not the case. Of course, we are all human, but I was not thinking it like that. We all have our bad days and I saw that in Yuzu, Evgenia, Jason, everyone. It just made me feel more okay with myself.
Everyone is so nice, all the coaches are so nice. They keep saying it’s always a process and it will come in a matter of time. With their experience with their older skaters, they know how to work with us. They’re still trying to find the best way to coach me and we’re still trying to figure it out together. I’m enjoying it and they’re enjoying it too, I hope. They seem to enjoy it.
LP: Have any skaters helped you with your elements?
JP: When I first got here, surprisingly I didn’t get any changes in technique because the coaches just wanted me to get used to the rink and the environment, everything. My school too is different, I went to an English school when I used to always go to a French school. They didn’t really change my technique, the skaters didn’t really help me with anything. They were just training and focusing on themselves for their competitions.
[My coaches] just wanted to see how I trained and how I did my techniques, so they didn’t really change anything. Now that the season is over, Ghislain, my other technical coach, he is really fixing me in every little detail. Sometimes it’s frustrating because during this competitive season, he never really corrected me and now he corrects every little detail, and I’m like, “Why didn’t you correct me earlier?” But he said he wanted me “to be comfortable and confident before a competition because if I keep correcting you, you won’t feel as good.”
LP: Do you have any plans for next season? Any particular goals?
JP: I don’t know. I didn’t really think about that yet. Looking at this season, I was putting really high goals in mind because last year was a really good season and I was expecting it to keep going up, so [my goals were] top three at Canadians, go into a senior international competition (which I didn’t go to), go into Junior Grand Prix Finals (which I didn’t go to), winning one of my Junior Grand Prix events, which didn’t happen either. Next year I’m hoping that the goals I set this year will happen next year and I’m training really hard now and really intensely. Even if my competitive season is over, I’m still really working hard because I want to get new quads, like the quad Lutz or the quad Sal[chow]. I want to achieve great stuff next year.
LP: What is a piece of music you’d like to skate to one day?
JP: I don’t know. If there’s a [piece of] classical music, like Carmen, for example, I don’t really have any classical music in mind, but this year for my long, I’m skating to Emperor by Beethoven. I always wanted to skate to contemporary music, famous music. [You Are The Reason by Calum Scott] is really emotional and I always wanted to skate to music that grabs the attention of the audience and gives them chills. I actually wanted to skate to that song last year but [my coaches] chose more of an upbeat song in my short program.
LP: What does it mean to you to represent Canada in figure skating?
JP: I get that question a lot. Even from my skating director, he always asks me, “How do you feel representing Canada?” I’m like, “It feels...good?” I mean, it’s an honor, right? Not many people get to that level and are able to represent Canada and compete for their country. I feel like I take it a bit as granted, because I’m just skating and going to compete internationally and representing my country, but I don’t really see it [like] that. When I go compete, I don’t really think that I’m representing my country, I’m more there to focus on my programs and my skating, hoping to skate well. I never really put a lot of thought in it, but it’s always an honor. Competing for a country, it’s always a big thing and it makes your country be proud of you and a lot of people look up to you. I enjoy that, it feels good to have fans.
LP: What are your friendships like with other juniors on the international circuit?
JP: I have a lot of friends. The ones I compete against, we’re all friends, mostly. During competitions, we are not all socializing, we need to focus. But after competition, I hang out a lot with my Cricket team, because they compete internationally too, like Conrad [Orzel] and Stephen Gogolev. Even though he’s shy and doesn’t really talk to me, I know him, we’re fine. Americans too, like Camden Pulkinen, and [other people], but those are the main people and we always socialize together when we’re at a competition. Every time we go to an international competition, we always have our Canadian team, where there are skaters in events, and we always hang out together and encourage and help each other out. We always have a team dinner and that helps [us] bond together too. Skate Canada pays for our meal, so we always pick, like, the most expensive thing, and it’s always so funny.
LP: What is the dynamic of friendships like at the Cricket Club?
JP: I mostly hang out with the people that are not in my session; I hang out more with the lower session. I try to socialize with [some of the skaters] and I [don't] feel [as] comfortable talking to them. It’s always like, “Hi, hi, how are you, I’m good.” That’s it. I never go further than that. If I go further than that, then it’s a little joke and then we laugh and we don’t know what to say after that and it gets kind of awkward. But with the younger session, we just talk about random stuff and it flows naturally. Alison Schumacher, she’s in my session and we really relate a lot to life. And Conrad Orzel too, we always do group workouts together, like pilates. We have a teacher who teaches us pilates after training and we’re always there, spilling tea—fun stuff—while working hard.
Oh! Last week, last Saturday, no one was there because it was Saturday and no one competes anymore so they take it easier, but I was there and Yuzu was there. Tracy Wilson was there too and Yuzu was training. I asked Tracy how was Yuzu always able to compete really well under extreme pressure. After the session, Tracy came up to me and told me to ask Yuzu that question and then he started giving me advice. He started opening up so much and that was the most we’ve talked to each other. That time I was really able to talk to him and I guess we bonded a little more.
LP: Can you walk me through a typical day in your life? From start to end, if you can do that.
JP: Yeah, I can do that. Pretty boring. I have four alarms: 6:40, 6:50, 7, and 7:10—I always snooze and wake up at 7:10 because that’s my routine: if I wake up at 6:40, it just won’t happen, that’s why I put four alarms. So I wake up at 7:10, I go brush my teeth, I shower in the morning, and I get prepared. At around 7:30, I go down and eat breakfast; my mom always cooks breakfast for me. At around 7:50, I take the bus to school, which takes about 45 minutes to get to school. I get to school around 8:40 and my school starts at 8:40, so I’m always a little bit late for my first period. But it’s just Writer’s Craft and we mostly just talk during that class, so it’s not a big deal and the teacher’s pretty chill. I finish school at 12:10 and I eat lunch in the car. One of my friends that goes to the same school brings me to the rink because it’s way faster than if I took the bus. If I took the bus, it would take around 25 minutes, but if I take the car, it would only take ten minutes.
I get to the rink at [around] 12:30 and I would get ready and warm up for ten minutes, it’s more socializing, but I still warm up. At 1, I will put my skates on and I will go on the ice at 1:10. [From] 1:10 to 2, I will do one session, and 2 to 3, I will do another session, and that’s pretty much it for skating. I feel like two hours is enough, and everyone does two hours at Cricket. You would think Yuzu does a lot more, but he just does two sessions too. The [first] session is when I skate with the lower session because my school finishes later and I have no choice. From 2 to 3, I train with elite skaters. After that, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have pilates for an hour and then I take the bus home, [either at 4:30 or 5:30, depending on if I had pilates]. My mom would cook dinner and we’d eat at 6, 6:30. I’d do my homework for the rest of the night. After homework, I’d go to sleep at around 10:30, 11, and then wake up again at around 7:10 and restart.
[My training schedule] differentiates with my school. During my first semester, I only had two periods because I was in APGA [Academic Program for Gifted Athletes] and I would finish at 11:20, instead of 12:10, so I would skate from 12 to 1 with [elite skaters like] Yuzu. I would always train with my session, but in this semester, I have three courses and it’s ruining my training schedule and I’m not enjoying it as much.
LP: So are you in high school or in university at the moment?
JP: I’m back in high school. I graduated in Montréal and I thought when I moved here, I’d be going to university right away, but I wasn’t informed at all. I was prepared to go into either medicine or business because I had all the criteria. I had to go back to high school because I had some courses that I didn’t take to be able to go to those courses in university, even though I could [go to] university in Québec. Ontario’s a little different, so I had to take [the classes] again. Like math, I’m taking grade 11 math again and do grade 12 math next year, like Calculus, because math was my worst subject. I’m doing Chemistry 12 and I’m taking Writer’s Craft because it's an obligatory subject for APGA. I’m going to be doing Biology 12 next year, Calculus, Advanced Functions, and maybe one media class.
LP: Basically two extra years of school that you don’t necessarily need?
JP: I know right! I’m not even going to graduate this year. I’m doing two more years of high school because of my training. It’s sad, but at the same time, it’s less stressful too.
LP: What is your favorite and least favorite subject in school?
JP: Well, you know my least favorite is math. I also hate physics. I also don’t like chemistry. (laughs) But I’m doing all those [subjects]. But I’m actually really good [at] art, like for real. I’m the creative, artistic kind of person, but my parents always put in my head that I become a doctor. I’m going to do the courses now, just to keep my doors open, but I want to be more of a film director—that’s more like long term, really long term. I want to get to that point, but maybe a part of me wants to become a [veterinarian] because I love animals. I know that’s going to be really tough, to go to university for another eight years to become a vet or a doctor. Then I have to go to medical school, and if I go to medical school, I won’t be able to skate anymore because I have to be there full time, which I put a lot [thought into it] and it’s stressful, so I’m going to take it one thing at a time.
But I really like art, media, theatre, dance.
LP: What’s your fondest skating memory?
JP: One of my fondest skating memories is at Canadians this year, it was a really good competition, I landed my two quad toe [loops] in the long [program]. I pretty did [a clean long program]—[I had] some cheated jumps—but I landed them. I was really happy, I had a standing ovation and I took that in so I remember that moment. Being so close to being in [the] top three, I was in tears, all dramatic and stuff, because my whole season wasn’t that great and at Canadians, I performed how I knew I could perform. Also, landing my quad Lutz last year was crazy. I haven’t landed one since, but when I landed that, it was so cool. I remember the feeling of landing that jump but I cannot recreate it for now. I’m working on it. Even if it wasn’t in competition, landing that jump was awesome.
LP: Going onto K-Pop, who are your favorite groups and soloists?
JP: I’m like multi-fandom. I like everything. I feel like all the songs coming out right now are bops. Like I listened to [the new BLACKPINK song, Kill This Love] ten times already, it’s so good. BTS is good too. I like EXO, BTS, Wanna One when they were still there, N.Flying. All my songs are like K-Pop, so they can literally be anything. Infinite, BLACKPINK, TWICE; I’m just listing them all out.
LP: Aside from K-Pop, do you have any favorite Western bands or artists?
JP: I love Panic! At The Disco. I’m a big fan of them. I love emotional, sad music because I feel like at this time of my life that’s how I feel, like a typical teenager. Any song that’s pretty emotional and I can relate to it, I will like it. You probably know [Let Me Down Slowly by Alec Benjamin]. Yeah, Panic! At the Disco, Imagine Dragons...I can like anything, literally anything. If it’s a bop, I like it.
LP: One of the commentators at Junior Worlds said you used to do gymnastics, can you elaborate a little on that?
JP: I was so surprised when [the commentators] said that, because I forgot [that] for the people who compete internationally, you send a form with all your information and additional information, extra stuff you want them to know about you. I didn’t really know what to write there, so I was like okay, let me just talk about other sports that I’ve already played. Technically, I never did gymnastics, I just did it for one day. Literally, just an hour, just to try it out. I was really surprised when they said that. I was like wait, what? I was doing warm-up and I was like woah, no, why did they say that? Yeah, I can’t tell you [anything], I was like four. I started skating at five, but I was trying sports at four.
LP: Do you have any hobbies completely unrelated to skating?
JP: I like League of Legends. I don’t play it as much anymore because I’m pretty busy with my homework, but I used to play that a lot. I miss my dogs but I would always play with my dogs because they’re still in Montréal, but they will move here soon. I like to watch Netflix, YouTube. I learning K-Pop dances too. Like I just learned a new one, from TxT, Crown. It was hard, but I liked it.
LP: If you had to take a foreigner around Canada, what are places that are must-sees?
JP: I would totally recommend my foreigner friend to go to Montréal because I know that place. I would also bring them to Laval—that’s where I live, it’s beside Montréal—and they have a really huge shopping lot that’s called Carrefour Laval. It’s like technically the Yorkdale [Shopping Centre] in North York. I would also bring them to La Ronde, that’s like the Wonderland in Montréal. Vancouver was really nice, a lot of good Korean restaurants there, and Japanese restaurants, I love sushi. The mountains there are really nice.
LP: What do you like to do with your family when you have free time?
JP: Well, if my dogs are part of my family—well, of course they’re part of my family. I like playing with my dogs. Doing stuff with my whole family: it’s been a while since I’ve done something with my mom, my dad, and my brother. What I like to do with them, we would always go out to eat sushi together because we don’t really hang out anymore. I’m always with my mom in Toronto and my dad [and my brother are] in Montréal. [Most of the time] we get to see each other again, we go to eat sushi. I cannot really chill with my parents, you know what I mean? If I’m with my brother, I would go crazy and he would be okay with it because he’s really young and the introverted type person, so I could go crazy beside him and he just stay chill.
LP: You sort of have a platform, so to say, as a well-known skater. Say something important happened in your skating community, how would you respond to that, knowing that fans are watching?
JP: For example, if there’s a tragedy that happened, like Denis Ten—what happened to him was really tragic and he didn’t deserve it at all—I would post something in my story. A lot of people posted [of] him, just to say their condolences...I will defend [skaters] for the right cause. I won’t do it to make fun, to hurt, or to make other people hate on that person. I would just find what’s right or defend or send my condolences.
LP: What is one piece of advice that you’d give to skaters coming up to the international junior [level]?
JP: Train hard, focus on your training, focus on what you achieved during your career, and put positive thoughts in your head because it’s so easy to become negative and start having doubts in your head, mostly before competition, and that’s where you use different tricks to help you to stay focused and not get distracted by external distractions.
LP: What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
JP: Enjoy your life and be as open as you can.
LP: What would you like to be remembered for if you only had one day to be a figure skater?
JP: I would love to be remembered for my amazing jumps. For my last day, I would like to jump for the last time and film it.
What is your favorite...?
Food: Cheesecake. I love desserts, so I can tell you any desserts. [I would choose] apple cheesecake because I bought that not too long ago and it was really good.
Guilty pleasure: Friends, How I Met Your Mother. I just finished How I Met Your Mother and it’s so similar to [Friends] in so many ways. Also, eating, that’s my guilty pleasure.
Skater: Yuzu. Watching him skate and train every day gave me more respect [for him].
Jump: Toeloop. Quad toe, triple toe.
Spin: Death drop.
One Word to Describe…
Brian Orser: Nice.
Yuzuru Hanyu: Lovable. (Everyone loves him, even if he never talks to you.)
Gabby Daleman: Sassy.
Nathan Chen: Humble.
Shoma Uno: Fierce.
Evgenia Medvedeva: Strong-minded.
Javier Fernandez: Amusing. (He’s really entertaining to watch, in a good way.)
Jason Brown: Enthusiastic.
Junhwan Cha: Consistent. (He’s so consistent, I can’t even.)
LP: Last question: would you like to say anything to friends and family who might see this interview?
JP: It was a fun time. I enjoyed it, I hope you enjoy it. Whether you liked what I said or not, I just don’t care.
Thank you, Joseph, for answering these questions and sharing parts of your life with me! You were a pleasure to speak to. Please continue to support Joseph in his upcoming ice shows and competitions as he represents the wonderful country of Canada!