QUEBEC CITY - Patrick Chan politely covered his face with a scraped-up elbow and stifled a terrible-sounding cough, one that has lingered for nearly a month.
The weary world's best male figure skater took his share of bullets this week. His reputation turned punching bag by a rankled Canadian public ticked at three-month-old comments he made to Reuters about the state of his beloved sport in Canada and China.
On Friday night, Chan slammed hard into the end boards while knocking down a triple toe in the short program, then his reliable quad suddenly went AWOL in Saturday's free skate.
But the 20-year-old Canadian crawled out the other side of it all a victor once more Saturday in Quebec City. He became the first International Skating Union Grand Prix final back-to-back men's champion since Russian Evgeni Plushenko (1999 and 2000) and is now impressively unbeaten in a full calendar year.
“I keep saying I want to change the sport and repeating here is part of it,” Chan said. “It's a message to tell me that everything I'm doing is on the right track. Since the new scoring system, there hasn't been a repeat champion (until now).
“It's the most joy I've had in a long time.”
Chan belted out the national anthem from the top of the podium a few days after reinforcing his love of skating for Canada. He said he received an apology a couple of days ago from the Reuters reporter who was the genesis of the story that sent his home country into a fit of head-shaking and tut-tutting.
Chan issued his own apology after the report came out, then took to the ice wondering if he was going to be booed, a black-hat wearing villain at home.
He wasn't, and thanked the Quebec fans for it.
“I was mentally exhausted this whole week,” he said. “It has been a go-go-go situation, which is totally normal, and the audience helps in that situation. The build-up to announcing my name, that was the most amazing part of the day. The (Quebec crowd) has that way of clapping (louder and louder) and it gives you energy and I'm glad we were able to give them a good competition.”
Chan stumbled and crashed and tripped over his own tongue, but still managed a season's best free skate score of 173.67 points to take top spot comfortably over Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, who rose from fifth to second, and Brian Orser-coached Javier Fernandez, the first Spaniard skater to land a Grand Prix medal.
It was the same top three as the Skate Canada International in Mississauga, Ont., a month-and-a-half ago.
“It was a better performance than (his second series win in) Paris and that's what it's all about,” Chan said. “You want to keep improving. It's a strenuous schedule. By the time you get to the final, you're just trying to hang on.”
There were plenty of inspiration sources.
Takahashi overcame his slow start to rise up the ranks. Fernandez leaped over his circumstances in a foreign skating culture.
But the biggest test of mettle still belonged to Chan.
The happy-go-lucky kid has some flinty substance to him. He built up enough distractions and excuses to merit a flop, then managed to stay afloat.
“The quads were really good this week, especially (Friday) so it is kind of funny how they didn't work today,” Chan said. “I did quick thinking on my feet. I never do a triple flip, triple toe but I put one in and it worked well.”
No one was worried if he would shy away from body-checking the end boards after bowling into them in the short program, least of all Canadian ice dance star Scott Moir.
“Patrick does all that mountain biking (in Colorado Springs),” Moir quipped. “He falls worse than that every day.”
Chan went right back out Saturday morning and attacked the same combination in practice.
“I made sure I had the spacing so I knew I could do it without hitting the wall,” he said. “I put the fall behind me and I wasn't worried about the boards.”
There is a durability in Chan, something he'll need if he's going to stay at the top of the sport for another two long years heading into the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
For those wishing he would take a hike, it doesn't look like he's going anywhere soon.
He also vowed, after his brush with controversy in the press, to keep his good-natured attitude and candid chattiness rather than resort to a more-guarded approach.
“It's pretty difficult to change your personality,” he said. “I'm an honest person.”
And, as he ultimately proved, a winner worth watching.
Patrick Chan won his second straight ISU Grand Prix final men's figure skating title Saturday in Quebec City. Here's a list of the multiple winners since the event was created in 1995
Evgeni Plushenko, Russia – 4 (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004)
Stephane Lambiel, Switzerland – 2 (2005, 2007)
Alexei Yagudin – 2 (1998, 2001)
Patrick Chan – 2 (2010, 2011)