Patrick Chan: Sitting on the Proverbial Fence

Susan D. Russell
Patrick Chan

So the guessing game begins anew, the will he or won’t he questions that still surround the future of Patrick Chan. And trust me, the final chapter is far from being written just yet.

Oh, sure, the three-time World champion put it out there during a Skate Canada media conference call on Monday that “in my heart, I want to win another World championship.” But by the time the 23-year-old from Toronto was done talking for the day, there were many elements of doubt left floating in the air.

Enough reason to believe we’re not going to see him in the competitive realm again anytime soon. Or maybe not at all, by the time Chan finally closes the book on a skating career that also includes seven national titles.

What is definitely for sure is that Chan won’t be defending his crown at the 2014 World Championships later this month in Saitama, Japan. Simply put, Chan needs a break from competition and all the pressure that surrounded his quest for Olympic gold in Sochi — a campaign that saw him end up with the silver medal behind Japan’s young wunderkind Yuzuru Hanyu, the sport’s next emerging men’s superstar.

When Chan returned home from Sochi with a pair of silver medals — he earned the first one in the inaugural Olympic team event — he was stuck with one thought in mind: “I don’t feel like this is the end. I want to accomplish more.”

Hence the suggestion Monday of another World title, which would match the four earned by Canadian legend Kurt Browning, one of Chan’s biggest idols and mentors in skating. It’s the kind of thing that could cement his legacy as one of the sport’s all-time greats, Olympic gold or not (and before you question that thought, it’s more than fair to suggest Browning, Elvis Stojko and Brian Orser belong in that club, and none stood on the top step of an Olympic podium).

Given all that, it’s understandable why he might want to try. But pressed by a reporter if that meant he planned to chase No. 4 next season, Chan hesitated, calling it instead “a long, long-term goal.”

Then he added this: “Whether it’s 2016 or 2017, or maybe even the 2015 World Championships, I may tackle those challenges and those goals.”

Note that the first year Chan mentioned wasn’t 2015 and when he got around to it, the word “maybe” was placed there rather prominently. Reading the tea leaves, I’d suggest the next announcement we’ll hear from him is that he’s taking a year off from competition, but that the door is staying open for a return to competition. The ultimate sitting on the fence statement.

Now, Chan would hardly be the first skater of his accomplished level to take such a route in the wake of an Olympic season, when the motivation level is most difficult to find. And consider, too, that Chan had put all his eggs in one big basket on the road to Sochi — it was truly gold or bust for him at the 2014 Winter Games. No Canadian man has ever won Olympic gold and Chan very clearly wanted to be the one to end that drought or jinx, or whatever you want to call it.

That’s how the story was probably supposed to end. Gold in Sochi, then ride off into the sunset and the world of show skating. But when the result was silver … then, what next?

It says that thought and that question is the one Chan is wrestling with now. The question that, in his mind, he never planned on having to answer (and it’s no small query). But here it is for real now, and it is not a response that will come easily or in a hurry.

But what happens if Chan spends a year away from the pressure of competition and starts feeling a little more comfortable with the touring life? He did suggest rather loudly Monday that there is indeed something for him to look forward to in that professional world, saying: “I love performing, I love trying new things. It brings a new kind of energy out of me.”

Let’s turn back the clock four years for a moment and consider the case of Joannie Rochette, who won a memorable and courageous bronze medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in the wake of her mother’s death just two days before her competition. In the months that followed, Rochette said she needed time to think about whether she’d compete again and, in the wake of the horrible tragedy that struck her in Vancouver, who could blame her?

But much as Rochette kept the door open for another Olympic run — while jumping into the show world in a big way — it was never open more than just a little crack. As it all played out, the charming 28-year-old never opened the door wide enough to fully walk through it, arriving instead in Sochi as a budding television broadcaster with French-language Radio-Canada, and enthused about the prospects of a new career direction.

Point being, minds can change and so can hearts. Much as Chan says it’s in his heart now to win another World title, who’s to say life might not take him down a different path in the years to come. Chan has always struck me as a tremendously inquisitive sort who fully intends to explore a whole bunch of paths in his life.

So yes, this is a storyline that isn't anywhere near close to being written to its final conclusion — and, methinks it won’t be for a little while yet.