LONDON, ONT.–The fans who gave Patrick Chan a standing ovation at his very first practice session at the Figure Skating World Championships look prescient now.
He didn’t just win the short program Wednesday night, he shattered the world record score, setting a new high of 98.37. Chan showed why he’s the two-time world champ and, despite a less than spectacular season, still the man to beat. Right from the quad-toe, triple-toe opening combination of his Rachmaninov program, Chan showed himself to be a master craftsman with a quarter-inch blade and a sheet of ice. Going into his last spin, the excitement was so overwhelming he felt “a surge from the ice, basically through my boot, through my body,” he said.
“I was like ‘I finally did it.’ The day that counts, in front of a crowd like this,” said the 22-year-old Toronto native. “It was on the edge, you can want it so badly it could go terribly wrong or you can want it so bad that it’s going to be amazing.”
Fellow Canadian Kevin Reynolds also had a spectacular night and sits third after the short program where he was the only skater to even try, let alone land, two quadruple jumps. Reynolds, 22, from Coquitlam, B.C., has long been a strong jumper – especially with the all-important quads. And, of late, he’s been building up his artistic side. “When I first came onto the senior circuit I had the big jumps already, but I didn’t really have much else, so it’s been quite a process to get to where I am now,” he said. It’s been a quite the process for Chan to get back to holding a gold medal, too. While waiting to talk to the press, he bit the corner of his short program medal, as if to check if it was real.
“When you’re in an environment like this where it’s full of people and I know they’re all behind me and they love me and what I do, all I want to do is give them back something amazing and something special that they’re going to remember.”
Now, he just has to pull it off again and dazzle the crowd and judges alike on Friday in the free skate.
There’s a lot at stake at the world championships at Budweiser Gardens this week. Chan articulated it all himself, in point form.
“This is where we determine our spots for the Olympics, so that’s No. 1. Very important. No. 2, I want to defend my title that I won twice. It would mean a lot to me to overcome all the hardships that I had this season,” he said.
“The third thing is a win here would create a lot of good momentum and energy and personal confidence going into the Olympics.”
That’s something Chan has been looking all over for lately. For a skater who spent years showing everyone else how it’s done, he’s had a tough season. So tough that he admits he was starting to panic about it.
“I wasn’t skating as I normally was. I couldn’t find my stride, I just felt like I was a step behind every time I tried to do something,” he said.
He lost his skate Canada title to Spaniard Javier Fernandez, who is coached in Toronto by Brian Orser, and he was third in the Grand Prix finals in Sochi. That’s not what any skater, even a six-time national champion, wants in the final season before the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
In the men’s free skate Friday, much will come down to who lands their quads. That high-risk high-reward element is always an exciting moment for fans and a necessity, at this level, for the judges. Chan has had trouble with his quads this season, making it even more of a hold-your-breath moment. But his quad toe-loop didn’t fail him Wednesday night.
After a hiatus in popularity brought on by judging changes that severely penalized falls, the quad is now back with a vengeance. Chan has said he’ll consider adding another one to his arsenal – his free skate includes two quads now – after worlds. “It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” he said.
But, for most of this season, it hasn’t been his skating so much as his mental game that he thought needed an overhaul. Chan said he has struggled with self-doubts and low self-esteem, “which is really odd for a two-time world champion,” he said. That’s why he left his long-time training camp in Colorado Springs for Detroit, which he felt had a better atmosphere, a few weeks ago to prepare for the worlds. “I just needed a change and I needed a kick start in my life, I guess, my skating life.”
Given Wednesday night’s performance, it seems to have worked.