April 28, 2011
Chan wins world figure skating title
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
There was one enduring image of men's figure skating at the Vancouver Olympics.
It wasn't Patrick Chan's disappointment over his fifth-place finish or American Evan Lysacek's golden celebration.
It was the unimpressed mug of Russian star Yevgeny Plushenko, the reluctant silver medallist who couldn't fathom how skaters without quad jumps were even in Olympic and world-title contention.
That debate over the value of the quad dominated the competition and drove a wedge through the skating world. It had Canadian skating hero Elvis Stojko in line with Plushenko's line of thinking and at odds with skaters like Chan.
And in the aftermath, one obvious question was regurgitated: What would an ideal skater look like once he put together the total package of big jumps, fancy footwork, elements and artistry?
The answer? An awful lot like Chan did in winning his first International Skating Union world title this week at Moscow's Megasport Arena.
Chan, 20, second at the past two worlds, became the 12th Canadian man to win the global title. He topped Plushenko's record short-program score Wednesday with 93.02 points, then smashed the world mark with a 187.96 free skate Thursday and 280.98 overall total.
"I didn't hold back," he said. "The first quad was a little crooked in the air and I could've landed the triple Axel better but I'm very proud I was able to do two quads."
In typical Chan humour, he said he was shooting for 300 points. He buried the competition anyway with Japan's Takahiko Kozuka, the silver medallist, 22 points behind him.
These were the type of performances Chan envisioned heading into the home Olympics.
But he had a rough lead-up to Vancouver: He contracted a case of H1N1 swine flu, suffered a tear in his calf muscle and split from his old coach Don Laws.
In the Olympic aftermath, he talked about retirement, albeit briefly.
Instead, he returned this season with the quad jump firmly in place, a rejuvenated spirit and an unparalleled work ethic.
He hung on to his Phantom of the Opera theme from last year but claimed everything about it would be changed, improved and better.
The results were nothing less than jarring. He created near-perfection at a world event that had to be postponed and moved to Plushenko's country after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last month.
And there was a profound statement made in Chan's performance this week.
This feels much more like the start of something special on a long-term basis. It doesn't resonate as a one-off accomplishment the way Jeffrey Buttle's lone world title did at Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2008.
Chan has often talked along the lines of tennis great Roger Federer, golf's pre-scandal Tiger Woods and the New York Yankees in his admiration for their sustained excellence.
He, like them, has the ability to dominate the sport. No other skater owns his arsenal at such a young age.
Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, the previous world champ, is 25. Nobunari Oda, another top threat, is 24 now.
Chan is alone the favourite to hold onto this crown through the 2012 worlds in Nice, France, the 2013 event in London, Ont., and toward the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The last Canadian to win two worlds in a row was Stojko (1994-95). The last to win three straight was Kurt Browning (1989-91).
Chan is showing signs of attaining that same invincibility as compatriots Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who own the ice-dance stage.
Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin remain figure skating's last two kings of enduring excellence.
And as interesting as it was for Chan's signature event to happen on Russian ice, there is another compelling showdown looming.
Plushenko sat out these worlds because he's been banned for skating in well-paying exhibitions without the ISU's permission.
He has applied for reinstatement, eyeing the chance to end his career at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
He'll be in his 30s by then. Chan will still be 23 and presumably at the top of his game.
The young Canadian was one of the prime targets of Plushenko's ire in Vancouver.
And though back then the Russian veteran found Chan to be an incomplete skater, he could very well return to discover he no longer has the tricks to keep up.