For those who have watched the developing talent of Patrick Chan reveal a little more of itself with each passing year, he may indeed still seem like a veritable whiz kid who took the Canadian skating world by storm just a few short years ago.
When the 20-year-old Toronto native takes a cursory look at the skater he was just two short years ago, even he is surprised at what has transpired.
“It’s like, who is this person?” Chan said with a hearty chuckle in describing the thoughts that run through his mind when he chooses to view his past programs on YouTube. “I don’t even know this person. He’s terrible. But it’s really cool to be able to say that. I’m honest. It’s like, ‘Gee, what was I thinking back then?’ My technique was so off and my artistry was so bad.
“Three years ago, I would have never thought I would be in this position. The coolest part is how I’ve
developed as a skater, as a person and as an athlete mentally.”
Chan said he imagines himself standing on top of
a mountain, head above the clouds, surveying everything he sees around and below him and savoring every moment.
But this is not just a metaphor. It is exactly how he felt on the evening of April 28 when he turned his vast potential into reality and became the World figure skating champion for the first time.
With seemingly effortless quads now part of his arsenal, Chan took his game to a new level in Moscow.
Beyond the title and the gold medal was the jaw-dropping performance he laid down that night. The final numbers were staggering. Chan established new records in both the short (93.02) and long programs (187.96) and earned a whopping 280.98 points overall. But the numbers barely tell the story.
Phrases such as “Chan dynasty” are now being tossed around as many wonder what the young Canadian will come up with next.
“He’s 20 years old. The sky is the limit,” said Christy Krall, who heads Chan’s coaching team at the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, Colo. “And we think the sky is the limit for him. I think we’ll be opening up new avenues. The best thing about Patrick is he’s going to take control of what he’s going to do and he’ll sketch his own destiny.
“Right now, I would say watch out for Patrick becoming the master of his own destiny. It’s going to be Patrick Chan in control of Patrick Chan, which will be phenomenal.”
UPPING THE ANTE
After turning his “Phantom of the Opera” free program into a masterpiece over the past two seasons, Chan is eagerly anticipating the new routine he and choreographer Lori Nichol will unveil in the upcoming season. While it is too soon to reveal any details, he knows exactly what kind of impact he wants to make.
“I’ve had a couple of people come up to me and ask, ‘Gee, how are you going to top the Phantom of the Opera?’ I just say it will be easy,” said Chan, who will keep his “Take Five” short program from last season. “I will use the tools I’ve gained in the last two years to create an even better program — one that integrates emotion, performance, with better connection and transitions.
“Just be even better and blow people’s socks off again, really shock them with a great program they’ll remember.”
Chan said his goal is to create a moment much like Jamie Salé and David Pelletier did at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games with their “Love Story” program. “That feeling of people being in awe and under a spell,” Chan said whimsically. “That would be the coolest thing to me, to be able to do that.
“The next biggest and the most difficult challenge for me will be to create a moment and to make an impression that people will remember.”
In the wake of what transpired in Moscow, the conversation inevitably leads to what’s next. Can Chan go where the legends before him have gone, into the pantheon of skating reserved for only the greatest of the greats?
“He’s spectacular, he’s special and I see the possibilities,” said Kurt Browning, a four-time World champion and the last Canadian to win three consecutive global titles (1989-91). “I know he’s been saying he wants to be like (tennis great Roger) Federer and he wants to dominate. You definitely have to say the kid’s got a chance to do that.
He’s got a chance to do the run from now on straight through to the end of his career. You have to say he’s got a chance, right?
“But it’s not always about winning. It’s whether you can bring people along for the ride when you win. I think that’s what makes the difference. So what is he going to have to do? Dominating would help, but watching him skate, even if you don’t know anything about figure skating, he’s special,” Browning added.
“So I think that will help, too. His interviews are always great … He does things that are just a little left of center, so you think, ‘I remember him, he said this and that.’ And then he skates great. It was like he called his shot like Babe Ruth and then he hit a home run. That’s what legends do.”
Chan acknowledges he is not there yet. When it was pointed out to him that he has joined an exclusive club of Canadian men who have won World titles that include the likes of Browning, Brian Orser, Donald Jackson and Elvis Stojko, Chan does not fully embrace the comparison. Much too soon, he said, even if current circumstances suggest otherwise.
“Those guys are people I looked up to when I was younger. I still look up to Kurt to this day,” Chan admitted. “It’s actually funny because recently I was in Richmond Hill working on my programs when Elvis came in. He said, ‘Congratulations to the World champion,’ and then I kind of realized, wow, he was also a World champion. I still look up to him the same way as if I wasn’t a World champion, because he was an idol for me. So they will always be on a higher plateau in my mind.”
Stojko, you might recall, caused quite a stir at the 2010 Winter Games when he opined on the outcome of the men’s event that produced a gold medalist (Evan Lysacek) who won without a quad, something that had been Stojko’s own calling card for so long. The words Stojko penned in a Yahoo! Sports column resonated for days.
Chan, who once got into a war of words with France’s Brian Joubert over the same topic, insists now he took no offense at Stojko’s harsh words.
“Elvis and I have always had a pretty good relationship,” Chan said. “Even when he said the things he said … I don’t believe in burning my bridges and I don’t believe he said anything directly against me. I didn’t see any reason to push him away. That day, when he was on his way out, it was really cool … he said, ‘Man, your quads are looking really great. They look so easy.’ And then he went on and on, and it was really cool to hear that from him because he was the quad king.”
But Chan aspires to so much more than that. He sees an opportunity to be a major force in reviving interest in the sport, which is nowhere near the stratospheric heights it enjoyed during the 1990s heyday of Browning and Stojko.
“That’s by far my biggest goal,” Chan said. “Beyond winning medals, Olympic gold or another World title, one of my long-term goals is that when I leave the sport, I want to move on knowing that I put something back into it. That I helped develop the sport and kind of put it back on the map.
“Who knows, maybe I won’t do it, but maybe I’ll inspire someone else to do it. That’s my approach. Maybe that will spark something in the Canadian and world audiences, to just keep watching and appreciate the art of skating.”
Krall, for one, believes Chan has the goods to do just that. “Patrick is a man on a mission,” she said. “He’s said it himself, that he wants to be a Federer, he wants to be a legend in the skating world. And isn’t that great? Isn’t that wonderful? Despite the judges’ opinions, despite anyone else’s opinions, he’ll make his mark.”
KEEPING IT REAL
Chan intends to do it on his own schedule. Much as he feels the escalating push to carry him through to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, he is not ready to go there or prepared to declare that lengthy leap just yet.
“What’s the difference between looking ahead four years and not looking ahead,” he said. “You’re just adding stress to yourself. I believe in living in the present and not in the future. Just enjoy what you are doing right now. That’s the biggest lesson I learned from Vancouver. The thing I regret from that experience is that I didn’t enjoy the four years leading up to it. I don’t even remember what I did. I just kept wanting to be there.
“It’s like when you’re young and you can’t wait to graduate from high school. You’re like, ‘Oh, man, I should have appreciated my time a lot more.’”
You will hear the same type of rhetoric from Krall. “You can’t set your goals so far out that you forget what you’re doing today,” she said.
Team Chan, which also includes Nichol and modern dance teacher Kathy Johnson, does its best to keep him well-grounded and living in the moment. So, too, does his girlfriend, Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, whom he met at the 2010 Games.
Bucsis encouraged Chan to resume his education, and this fall he will begin studying for a degree in international economics at Colorado College. Bucsis provides a valuable sounding board as a fellow elite athlete, even if she’s based far away in Calgary.
Browning, for one, believes Chan has found an environment in Colorado that works for him on so many levels that have helped accelerate his growth on and off the ice.
“A lot of kids who are top three in the World or have his potential would be looking for the latest and greatest, but he was looking for what he needed and that was what he could believe in, learn from and trust,” said Browning.
“So that kind of personality is grounded. Yeah, he’s a kid and he’s got a good, healthy ego and he’ll say the wrong thing sometimes. But you have to be that way.
“To be a figure skater and not have an ego … I hate to say it, but you’re probably not a great skater. What do we do? We’re show-offs. Even the most timid skater still has to stand at center ice and make themselves worthy of your attention alone.”
It is that mindset, in part, which fuels Chan’s desire to raise the bar even further. While he admits perfection is elusive, the pursuit of it is forever alluring. “The best athletes are always striving for perfection and for some reason, perfection never makes it to you,” Chan said. “Perfection is never achieved because if you do achieve it … then that’s the end. And there’s never an end to being the best.
“Why did Tiger Woods change his golf swing when he was doing so well? Because athletes are constantly looking to tweak every little detail and to keep themselves entertained.
There are so many things I can do better. I can be more expressive and perform more like Kurt does in shows. I can improve my jumps. There are so many little details. To be the best, you always have to keep striving. You can’t rest on your laurels.”
Originally published in August 2011