Quotes force Chan to backpedal off thin ice

Figure skater Patrick Chan gets a hug from his father Lewis as he arrives in Toronto from the...

Figure skater Patrick Chan gets a hug from his father Lewis as he arrives in Toronto from the Vancouver Olympic Games on March 1, 2010. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency/Files)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:06 AM ET

QUEBEC CITY - It is easy to see why Patrick Chan would be frustrated.

The world's greatest male figure skater will perform his short program Friday at the International Skating Union's Grand Prix Final in a 4,300-seat arena called the Pavillion de la Jeuness at ExpoCite.

It's not the grand, old Colisee in Quebec City, where Patrick Roy's major-junior hockey Remparts routinely draw 10,000-plus spectators and will play home games Friday night and again Sunday afternoon, when Canadian Olympic gold medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are due to skate their free dance.

On Thursday, Chan did his best stickhandling while Skate Canada engaged in ferocious backchecking to try to smooth over comments the federation's 20-year-old poster boy made to Reuters news agency suggesting he felt unappreciated and a lack of respect at home, that his ideal situation would be to represent both Canada and China and that figure skating is lost here in a hockey-obsessed culture.

"It was a shock," Chan said on realizing the stiff backlash to his comments. "They were taken out of context. I had just gone on a trip to China and it was a wonderful experience. I was able to see my roots, got to see where my parents were from and that's more what I was reacting to.

"I never intended to suggest any negative feelings toward Canada."

He didn't entirely back away from what he said, either: "I just wish I said it in a way that didn't leave it open (to misinterpretation)."

Chan dismissed thoughts of skating for China in the future, though he had been quoted as saying, "If my parents hadn't emigrated from China and say I had skated for China, things would have been very different. My parents wouldn't have had to make as much sacrifices as they have and there would be a lot more respect for what we do as figure skaters."

Of course, they also would've surrendered some freedoms along with it.

Chan will be one of Canada's top gold-medal hopes at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But it will be interesting to see how he handles this self-created mess. "It's a distraction," he said. "It's normal. We all have distractions - whether it's a girlfriend or something else - and you have to find a way (to succeed). When I'm on the ice, none of the media, the outside stuff, matters."

Chan desperately wants to be a central figure in propelling figure skating to the same heights it enjoyed 20 years ago when Kurt Browning was in the spotlight, Elvis Stojko was king and the Tonya Harding incident pushed the sport into the top of North American popular culture.

It was suggested to Chan it may never again reach that level, or even its current peak in Asia.

"I hope it will," Chan said. "We always seem to talk about when Elvis skated or when Kurt skated. I was pretty young back then, but I think now it's different. We have guys doing things out there that are more difficult (than it was in the past).

"When you see Tessa and Scott skate or their free dance at the Olympics (in Vancouver), it's magic and I hope more people get to experience that."

His notorious comments earned him some more TV time, but it's not the kind of bump that will lead to the sport's growth.

"I failed in that," he said.

Chan is correct that the Canadian sporting landscape has changed plenty in the past two decades: Back then, figure-skating events were housed in NHL rinks; in 2013, the world championships will be held at the 9,000-seat John Labatt Centre in London.

There's a multi-tiered tug-of-war for attention. At the Vancouver Olympics, Canada won 14 gold medals so, including the hockey teams, you have nearly 60 individuals with the same impressive feat on their ready-for-endorsements resume.

"There's a lot more competition for the sponsorship dollar," Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said. "It's not the way it used to be (when Canada would win one or two golds per Olympics)."

Chan has the chance to be the face of his sport for a long time. He also understands he's taking shots from the Canadian public.

"I try not to pay attention - it makes me sad," he said. "I'm the kind of person who likes to please everyone."

He's going to continue to represent the red-and-white and hopefully, remains as candid as always.

But he'll have to wear the black hat over this for a while.

It's definitely not a look he's used to, especially at home.

E-mail ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca, read Ryan's column or follow Ryanatlfpress on Twitter.


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