For Canada’s Patrick Chan the 2007-08 season is one he will never forget.
A bronze medal at Skate America; gold at Trophée Eric Bompard, a trip to the Grand Prix Final and the greatest prize of all, the Canadian national title. Chan had a banner year.
He rewrote the Canadian figure skating history books when he claimed gold in Vancouver, becoming the youngest man to ever stand on the top step of the podium. And winning that title, Chan said, was his finest achievement last season.
“The greatest thing for me last season was winning the national title. It was huge and means more to me than any other competition I won a medal at,” he said.
Following his win at the national championships his school announced a sporting award in Chan's name that will be given away each year. “They said that they felt I had met their requirements to nominate a trophy in my name, which is amazing,” he said.
“After nationals, the school made a big, big poster which was hung in front of the office that said ‘Congratulations Patrick Chan’ and that made me glad I have stayed in school. Sometimes it is hard to juggle school and skating but that kind of thing makes me realize how much I cherish school.”
Though Chan has never failed a course, he still has one more year of high school. “I don’t have enough credits to graduate, because of skating, so I have to do one more year.”
The only disappointment for the 17-year-old was placing 9th at his first senior Worlds in Sweden last March. “I learned a lot from the experience,” Chan said. “Now I know what to expect at that level of competition.
“The guys at Worlds were really down to business, there was no joking around. It was the first time I had competed in that kind of atmosphere and in a venue that was sold out. It was crazy. I could not even find a seat to watch the rest of the competition after I had competed. It was a good experience and it has inspired me to work even harder.”
After Worlds Chan returned to what he described as the real world. “I went back to school to be a normal person and just relax,” he said with a touch of humor.
When asked about his schoolmates’ reaction on his return to classes, Chan laughed. “Well, the reaction was better after I won nationals,” he said. “A lot of my peers asked, ‘How did you do at Worlds?’ and I said 9th and they were like ‘oh … congratulations.’ It is hard for them to understand.”
And just when Chan thought all the excitement was done for season he received a telephone call one evening in April from a gentleman in Korea. The caller wanted to know if Chan would be interested in performing in a show in Seoul in May.
Though initially reticent about traveling half way around the world to perform in a show, Chan agreed when he was told his friend Yu-Na Kim was the headliner.
“Going to Korea I was a little uneasy because I had not had a good experience in Asia,” he said in reference to his poor showing at his debut appearance at NHK Trophy in 2006.
But all his doubts faded after the first “Festa on Ice” show. “It was awesome. I had the greatest time ever in Korea,” Chan said enthusiastically. “Maybe it was partly because of the group I was with –- you know, Brian (Orser), Tessa (Virtue) and Scott (Moir).
“And the fans! Oh my goodness! The first show was crazy, off the wall –- like off the charts,” Chan recalled.
“The fans were amazing but it is tiring because you are just presenting so much more. The crowds were screaming the whole time. I mean, you are just doing crosscuts and they are screaming. It was scary but it was fun.
“It took the first show for me to get used to it but then it was just cruising -– it was a lot of fun just taking it all in. The last show was the best; it was phenomenal. I got tons of gifts. I would go back there again. Definitely.”
Orser, who choreographed “Festa on Ice,” said the reception Chan received from the Korean crowds was unbelievable. “Patrick was really incredible. The fans were just crazy and not just for Yu-Na,” Orser said. “Korean fans are crazy for good skating. All of the skaters in the show just fed off this amazing energy, which was just overwhelming at times. And by the third show, Patrick was on fire.”
Co-choreographer David Wilson laughed when asked about Chan’s popularity in the Asian nation. “I kept telling Patrick ‘you’re a star,’” he said. “The crowds were loving him and he was feeding off it. He just came alive and was performing like I have never seen him before.”
Chan admitted he did not know how much fun it was going to be when he signed on for the show. “It was amazing and I am so glad I had the chance to experience that. It was a great end to a great season.”
When school ends on June 23, the amiable teenager plans to take some time off before he heads to Florida to start training with coach Don Laws. “I think I will take like four days off to gear down and get ready to gear up again,” Chan said.
He plans to open his season at Liberty International, a competition he won in 2007, before he hits the big time. “I have Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard as my Grand Prix assignments which I am happy about. Skate Canada is the only domestic competition I have never done. I did not want Russia or Japan -– they are too far away.”
Lori Nichol choreographed both programs for the upcoming season. His short is a tango and the long is a classical piece by a Russian composer.
The Toronto native knows he is up against a tough field this coming season. “I think this will be one of the hardest seasons in the history of skating. Everyone is so competitive, no doubt about it,” Chan said.
“Obviously many of the guys in the field do not have as much time as I have but I definitely want to be competing against them all. I don’t want to be competing against the next generation that comes after them.”