LONDON, ONT. - Patrick Chan built almost seven points of cushion with his world record short program on Wednesday.
He nearly needed all of it.
The Canadian champion won his third straight world title Friday night at Budweiser Gardens but tumbled three times — only two of them on jumps — but managed to cling to the top of one of figure skating's most historic podiums.
Chan, the first man to three-peat since Russian Alexei Yagudin (1998-2000), smacked his forehead with the open palm of his right hand after finishing with 169.41 points for his La Boheme long program, his lowest-scoring free skate at worlds since 2010.
He wrapped up the worlds with a combined total of 267.78 – one more point than what he needed to win last year in Nice, France. He was able to hold off a terrific charge by the surprising 19-year-old,Denis Ten, who outscored Chan by five points on the night (174.92) and claimed Kazakhstan's first world medal with a 266.48. Spain's Javier Fernandez, the European champ coached in Toronto by Brian Orser, snuck into third for his country's first medal with 249.06 points.
Canada's Kevin Reynolds, third after the short program, skated last and dropped to fifth with 239.98 points.
His countryman, Chan, breathed a sigh of relief.
“Maybe I'm saving the long for the Olympics,” an apologetic Chan said. “The more you fall, the more tired you are. Some days, you have to work for it. It wasn't easy, but I'll take the win.”
He's the first Canadian to win three straight world titles since Kurt Browning (1989-91). He also joins Browning as the only singles skater from this country to win a worlds on home ice.
Those titles still don’t hold weight for Chan.
“I am angry at myself,” the 22-year-old Toronto native said. “It was good at the beginning, two beautiful quads. The (triple) Lutz scared me. It was a shock. I don't really fall on the triple Lutz in training. That was new for me. I am mad because I didn't skate well for this (near-capacity) audience. I am sorry I didn't skate better for them. It's a two-program competition. I am thankful for that beautiful short program.”
He knew he opened the door for the rest of the field, but 2007 world champ Brian Joubert of France, looming with three quads in his long program, couldn't capitalize on the opportunity.
“I was really, really bummed,” Chan said. “When I went into my step sequence, I thought it would be awful if I lose because of all the mistakes I made.
“Today is proof that figure skating is about an overall good week. I think the audience saved me. I am so glad you saw my quads. It's where I want to be heading into Sochi.”
A lot of people saw a Fernandez medal in the works.
He finished seventh at last year's worlds, and received a rousing ovation from the Canadian crowd. He is coached by American Frank Carroll, who previously guided Michelle Kwan and Olympic champ Evan Lysacek to world titles. Lysacek beat Chan in 2009 at Los Angeles and Carroll's latest pupil nearly pulled off the shocker.
“My dream came true,” Ten said. “I still can't believe what happened. What's more important is the first world medal for my country. The whole country is very proud. It feels great.”
Ten learned a lot about himself this week. He felt, during his long program, that he could have been doing better.
“I didn't feel like I'm doing really well,” he said. “I'm satisfied because it was the best performance of the year, maybe of my skating career.”
Just like Chan, he managed to turn around a poor campaign. He finished sixth at Skate Canada in Windsor in the fall.
“This season, I had so many bad skates,” Ten said. “I didn't think of a medal. This small medal after the short program (when he was second), I was so proud of it. Then, I didn't sleep for two nights. I was so nervous. I tried not to think about medal but you have a million thoughts through the day.
“I'm still trying to gain experience so when you win that (small) medal, it can be dangerous.”
He turned himself into a huge threat to a third title.
Chan can thank his lucky stars he had such a great short.