Patrick Chan was the world’s best figure skater for three straight years.
Now 27 (that’s aging in skating), he’s leaning on help from other Canadians in a last bid for the Olympic gold medal that has eluded him.
Chan, who goes for his 10th national title this week, extols the Olympic team event that debuted in Sochi and returns for PyeongChang.
Canada took silver four years ago and appears closer to champion Russian this time around.
“It’s the event that I’m looking forward to the most, actually,” Chan said last week. “Our [Canada’s] approach to the team event is very different from Sochi. I think we’re taking the team event this time around a lot more seriously. It’s less of an experimental situation. It’s much more of a planned and thought-through opportunity for all of us to get a medal, to get a gold medal. It’s the best chance we ever have.”
In 2010, Chan went into the Olympics as the reigning world silver medalist looking to become the first teenage male singles champion since 1948.
He finished fifth in Vancouver, where he now trains and will compete to earn one of two Canadian Olympic men’s berths this weekend.
Chan then won three straight world titles from 2011 through 2013 but took silver at the Sochi Olympics behind Japanese teen Yuzuru Hanyu.
“My last two Olympics, I got off the ice disappointed,” Chan said, according to NBC Olympic Research, “because my expectations were based on things I can’t control. Like, ‘I’ve got to win the gold medal in Canada, or I’m the reigning [world] champion going into Sochi, so I must win.’”
Chan took a one-year break, then returned, but has not kept up with the quadruple-jump revolution of the last two to three years.
He was fifth at each of the last two world championships and ranks 21st in the world this season.
His chances of individual Olympic gold are remote, but Canada in this Olympic cycle has developed into arguably the world’s best all-around skating nation.
Chan was a leader, along with ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, in the 2014 Olympic team event.
Now he may be its biggest question mark.
Pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won the 2015 and 2016 World titles. Kaetlyn Osmond is the world silver medalist. And Virtue and Moir came back from a two-year break to claim last season’s world title.
Would a team gold mean just as much to Chan as the individual one that he missed?
“Absolutely, because a medal is a medal,” he said. “At this point in my career, anything at this point is a bonus. For me, going to the Olympics for a third time, that in itself is an achievement.”
Nobody is on the Olympic team yet, but it would be shocking if Chan doesn’t make it. His best score last season was more than 40 points higher than the next-best Canadian.
For Canada to win gold in the team event, Chan’s mini competition with Russia in the men’s portion may be pivotal. Finishing ahead of or behind Russia in either the short program of free skate means a multiple-point swing between the two favored nations.
Chan beat both Russians at last season’s worlds, but Russian men improved as a whole this season with three ranking ahead of Chan.
However, Chan only competed at one Grand Prix event this fall (and struggled), while most skaters had two or three events to post a top score for world ranking purposes.
Chan was fourth at Skate Canada in October, falling and making errors on most of his jumping passes in a seventh-place free skate.
In announcing his withdrawal before his November Grand Prix, Chan said he “never had a skate like that in a big event.”
He also changed training bases, moving back to Canada for the first time in seven years. Chan said last week that his environment in Michigan was “taking a toll” on his mental well-being before withdrawing from that second Grand Prix.
“Being back in Canada and not feeling like such a stranger as I go about my life every day,” he said.
Chan plans one quadruple jump in Friday’s short program and two in Saturday’s free skate, all quad toes. He has dropped the quad Salchow he had in addition to the toe last season.
“I took a bit of a more strategic approach, looking at what I’m capable of doing and where my strengths are,” he said. “I shouldn’t feel diminished at all. I think I can offer a lot in so many other ways than just quads.”
In 2010, Evan Lysacek won the Olympics without any quads. Next month, the Olympic champion will likely have two quads in his short program and at least four in his free skate.
“I’ve kind of lived the bridge between these two generations of skaters,” Chan said. “I hope I can just be one of those skaters who’s a bit of a Switzerland, right in the middle, and can show the benefits of a very technically sound skater and also a very artistically sound skater. I think that’s where my strengths lie. I know that nobody can do that. I’m the only skater that can offer that. I may be the last.”
Chan said in August 2016 that he would retire after the 2018 Olympic season. Chan said last week he hasn’t thought beyond PyeongChang, if he may compete one more time at the world championships in March.
“The result at the Olympics isn’t going to change people’s memory of me,” Chan said, according to NBC Olympic Research, “or the mark I’ve left on the sport.”