A serious dose of Kazakh pride took over Budweiser Gardens on Friday night.
And why not! Their man, Denis Ten, lit up the World Figure Skating Championships for the second time in three nights — this time with a marvellous free skate that put a serious scare into Patrick Chan, the Canadian who seemed poised to waltz to an easy triumph.
Not so fast, said Ten, who exceeded his previous personal best by 21 points in winning the free skate with a whopping 174.92 points. It was almost enough to end the reign of Chan — an effort that left the 19-year-old from Kazakhstan almost at a loss for words (at least at first). Ten is a very gregarious, engaging and, yes, funny young fellow, as it turns out.
“My dream came true. I still cannot believe that it happened,” said Ten (who’s no relation to B.C. skater Jeremy Ten. Denis jokingly referred “my Canadian brother” as a possible source of the huge fan support he’s received in London).
Two nights earlier, Ten spoke with pride about the small medal he received for finishing second in the short program. It was a first for Kazakhstan, and now he has a “real” one to add to the collection — and his country’s sporting lore.
“That is my first real World medal and what’s even more important is it’s the first medal for my country, and I’m feeling very proud of it,” he said. “I’m realizing that the whole country right now is feeling very proud of my little win, my little victory. So it’s feels great.”
Ten charmed the media with tales of skating on frigid outdoor rinks in his homeland as a child, wearing three pairs of pants (“I looked like a little cabbage”). But now he’s enjoying some top-notch coaching in California from Frank Carroll and Lori Nichol — although he admitted they probably wondered where his head was at after finishing 12th at the Four Continents Championships in Japan last month.
All that did was harden his resolve to show one and all “that wasn’t me in Osaka.”
“I realized that the game was not over and how much I wanted to prove to everyone I’m still playing,” he said. “Every time I would rest in my bed, I would think about how I really wanted to do well at the Worlds. Frank doesn’t know I was working out until 10 p.m. every night in my garage (what’s in there is a secret, Ten said).
“That’s true. I felt I was on some mission.”
Mission accomplished, we’d say.
With a huge lead heading into the free skate, Patrick Chan had every reason to think he’d be celebrating by the end of the night.
Apologizing? Not really part of the plan.
But there he was at Budweiser Gardens, telling a home country crowd that he was sorry for a performance that wasn’t close to being the best of the night — but was good enough to bring him a third straight World crown.
“I definitely was disappointed in myself, because I really wanted to go out there and have another short program moment,” said Chan, who truly won this title on the strength of a world-record score in the short (he was nearly seven points better in that segment than Ten). “The moment wasn’t as good as it could have been, but it was nonetheless very special.”
“I was apologizing because I wanted to give back to (the fans) and show my love to them, to share this special moment with them.”
Chan hung onto his crown by a scant 1.3 points, and knew when his program was done that he might have left the door a little too wide open. The thought of losing his crown that way, Chan admitted, had him feeling “really bummed.”
Kurt Browning went into the 1992 Olympic Winter Games as a three-time World champion, and now Chan will do the same a year from now in Sochi.
Count on the two of them having a conversation or two about the topic between now and then.
Every time his reaches some new height, Javier Fernández checks off another first for his country. But such is life as a figure skater representing Spain, which has plenty of history in sports such as soccer — but not so much in his specialty.
So here was Fernández on Saturday night, basking in the glow of a bronze medal. It’s a first for Spain, right on the heels of his European victory a few months back. Yes, you know the drill by now ... the first Spaniard to do that, too.
“We have a lot of good sport people in Spain, but not in figure skating,” said the engaging Spaniard, who trains in Toronto with Brian Orser. (Fernández joked earlier in the day that he feels “half Canadian”). “We are doing are best to keep making goals, to keep improving and to tell the other countries around the world that Spain is in figure skating.”
Friday’s medal wasn’t easy in coming. Fernández had to wait out nine skaters after completing his Charlie Chaplin themed free program. But in the end, only Chan and Ten surpassed him in the final standings.
When Fernández returned to Madrid after winning his European crown, he received, among other things, three Real Madrid jerseys and the chance to watch his favourite soccer team take on Catalan rival Barcelona. Who knows what they’ll do for him now.
“Maybe there will be two parades next week,” Orser said with a thought toward a history making night of skating for a pair of countries.
So you’re Kevin Reynolds, you’re the last guy to skate in the men’s final — and you hit the ice knowing you could be less than five minutes away from standing on the podium for the first time your career.
No pressure, right? More like yeah, right.
“As nervous as anyone would have been in that last position of skating,” the young Canadian said when asked how he felt when he glided out in the midst of the noise of the crowd.
Of course, Ten helped ramp that atmosphere up tenfold with his wondrous performance that made him the man of the night. But Reynolds, who would wind up fifth in the end, insisted he didn’t have scores in mind as he worked through his program.
“With all that was going on with Denis Ten, I had to keep my focus and not worry about the scores,” he said. “That would have been too much pressure to handle.”
If there was any sense of disappointment or letting a golden opportunity slip through his hands ... well, Reynolds sure wasn’t saying so.
“After nationals, winning Four Continents and now a top five finish here, this gives me a great deal of confidence going into next season,” he said.