Gold or bust for Patrick Chan in Sochi

Friday, September 6, 2013

Patrick Chan feels the weight of the one gold medal that’s not hanging around his neck.

Nor – strange as it may sound for a powerhouse figure skating nation –has Olympic gold ever been invested on a singles male skater from Canada.

How can that be, for a country where men have copped world championships on a dozen occasions since 1987?

Well, either the timing has been slightly off – Kurt Browning’s four world titles bracketing the ‘92 Olympics – or injury put victory just beyond reach, as with favoured Elvis Stojko’s valiant silver in 1998 despite a groin pull so severe he limped to the podium in sneakers. Or, a rival was just that teensiest better, most memorably in the Battle of the Brians in Calgary, 1988, American Boitano over Canadian Orser in a 5-4 split among the judges, old-scoring style.

“How many years has it been?” Chan asked aloud on Thursday, when the subject of Canada’s freeze-O arose at High Performance Camp in Mississauga’s Hershey Centre, which kicks off the season. Then, remembering, oh yeah. “Since forever.”

Forever but not and anon, perchance, in Sochi.

At his Olympic debut in Vancouver, the then-19-year-old Chan finished a respectable fifth. Three world championships followed. And nothing short of gold will suffice five months from now on the shores of the Black Sea.

“We’ve kind of been able to live with it for so many Olympics,” the six-time national title-holder shrugged, whilst making it abundantly clear he would find it unbearable to return from Sochi as anything other than Winter Games victor, resplendent in medaillon d’or.

It’s all been building towards this moment, in Sochi; the endless months of training, the countless competitions, the several years now that Chan has stood astride his sport, rarely posting a substandard performance –and only substandard for him.

“Sometimes the stars need to be aligned for things to work,” he reminds.

But Chan is leaving nothing to chance. The career disruptions occurred last season when the Torontonian got himself, surprisingly, a new coach and moved his training base from Colorado Springs to Detroit. There was disapproval in some quarters but Chan has invariably been right about his choices. Nobody else better has a finger on the pulse of his career as the young man himself.

“You don’t have to tell me twice that it’s not gonna feel good to not win a gold medal in Sochi.”

Towards that end, Chan decided against any recreational travel over the summer, and this is a fellow who loves to see the world, whether visiting family in China or surfing in Hawaii. Best not to risk an accident, a stumble. Instead, he packed up his dolls and dishes, drove from Colorado to Michigan, and settled in comfortably to the new surroundings.

“My first Olympics was like running a marathon and the next one will be kind of like a half-marathon.”

Meaning halfway there, in his mind and in the preparation.

What Chan brings to elite competition is a sense of reliability, even destiny. He’s never been discombobulated by nerves, an affliction that often makes the difference in an unforgiving sport where one miniscule misstep can make the difference between podium and also-ran.

Further, and crucially, the Games won’t be an unknown quantity.

“The first Olympics, for me, was in Canada, which put additional pressure to overcome. Sochi will, I think, be a little smoother and easier on Canadians because we definitely won’t have as much pressure as we did in Vancouver.

“To be honest, I’m going out there to do what I want to do. I want to get a gold medal for myself first and for Canada secondly. That’s the cherry on top. I want to finish the chapter by winning a gold medal.”

Chan is sticking with the short-program Rachmaninoff that served him well on the Grand Prix circuit last season but the free skate routine, performed to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is new, choreographed by David Wilson. It was the music of Vivaldi to which Chan skated when he won his first Canadian championship in 2008. “This year will kind of be a full circle season for me. It’s going back to the roots, going back to what made me enjoy skating, made me so happy about being a figure skater. And this program brings that out. Just hearing the music makes me feel excited to skate the program, excited for each element that’s coming up.”

Technically, the long program, with its two quads, won’t feature anything not seen before. “Nope, no new quads, no new tricks. This isn’t the year to do that. That was the strategy, not to try anything new and brash because there’s no need for it.”

But the quads, he adds, are “more solid.”

“They weren’t so solid last year, honestly, even though I landed it at almost every competition. I didn’t feel confident about it. I didn’t know going into it that I was going to land this.”

Now he has no doubt about it. But he may add a second triple Axel by mid-season “just for kicks” and perhaps the quad Salchow.

“A quad Salchow would be more like a party trick.”

Some guys just put a lamp shade on their head.

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