He's a marked Chan

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

Patrick Chan is contemplating the hazards of his profession.

Chan is Canada's best chance for a figure-skating gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics. He is the reigning Four Continents champion, the 2009 world silver medallist, and a two-time national champion

He is on top of his world. But, all that does is make him an easier target. Being a guy and being a figure skater with an artistic bent can go together like ketchup and cream.

"I'm not gay," says Chan.

Not that there would be anything wrong if he were -- but it's the assumption that people make when they watch him perform that is irksome.

Chan is 18, dealing with all the questions associated with those teen years, and the nudge-nudge, wink-wink mentality -- particularly from his peer group -- is irritating.

"You can't determine someone's sexuality by how they skate," he said this weekend at a pre-season workshop in Toronto. "I've heard the hockey mentality with guys saying: 'Oh, he's gay!' But what you do on the ice and what a person is off the ice can be totally different."

Chan is the new face of figure skating, all about footwork, grace and technicality and less about masculinity and big jumps. It is a sport that blends art, science and athleticism.

"That's what makes it unique. If you jump with your arms in, you won't turn as much, so it's physics. The ice is like a canvas. So, it's art. There's a ballet component but doing it on ice, with skates makes it tougher. Athletic. The combination ... that's what makes it so cool," Chan said.

That combination is both the sport's strength and its vulnerability. It's difficult to look macho when you're trying to interpret a butterfly.

Show a softer side and there's bound to be some duffus, who should be wearing a Timmins dinner jacket, snickering in an arena corner.

"It sucks sometimes," admitted Chan. "I practise at the Granite Club and there's a lot of artistic movement I have to do and the guys from the all-boys school across the street come over and they're acting all tough and cool. And, yeah, it's embarrassing skating in front of them because I know they're thinking: 'What a gay guy. Well, I'm not.' "

While the topic of sexuality is often whispered about when it comes to figure skaters, it is rarely discussed openly. Then, to complicate the issue, former Canadian champion Elvis Stojko stated recently that men's skating has become too feminine. Chan isn't terribly comfortable discussing the whole girly vs. macho stuff.

"Elvis is a good friend and I don't want to ride him. I hear both sides but I've kept my thoughts to myself," Chan said. He does believe Stojko's macho approach wouldn't work today.

"If you're artistic the judges love it. There is room for both in the sport but it's more difficult if you take the masculine approach than if you take the balletic path because of the new (judging) system."

Chan became the future of Canadian skating when world champion Jeff Buttle retired. Did himself proud, too. "I was able to forget about other people's expectations. I just asked myself: 'Why am I skating?' I'm skating for myself -- for the joy of it."

He will keep his popular short program for Vancouver but is reworking the long program, performing to Phantom of the Opera.

"I love it. Except it's going to be difficult because it won't have the effect that we want if I don't perform and get into the story of the music." There's that artistry stuff, again. But, heavenly days in Machoville: He's planning a quad. "Honestly, I find it easier physically than the triple Axel. It's a more comfortable jump for me. But, mentally, it's more difficult, and I think it just has to do with everyone saying how hard it is. It shouldn't be that big a deal. That's my mistake most of the time -- making a bigger deal out of it than I should."

But, then, he wouldn't be the only guy who's ever made that kind of mistake. Right? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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