SOCHI, RUSSIA - The day before the biggest skate of his life, Patrick Chan is in a good place.
The three-time world men’s singles champion said following practice Wednesday that winning a silver medal in the team event Sunday was just what the doctor ordered. Chan said already having a medal in hand has eased the burden of preparing for the individual men’s singles competition, which begins with the short program Thursday night.
The Toronto skater is under extraordinary pressure at these Sochi Olympics. Canadian men have won 14 world singles championships, but never an Olympic gold, and Chan will attempt to end that streak at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
Next to the Canadian men’s hockey team, the 23-year-old is probably under more pressure than any Canadian athlete at these Games — and the hockey team can spread the burden amongst 25 guys.
When Chan is on, he’s almost unbeatable. But the Ottawa-born skater has had an up and down season and Skate Canada officials have done everything in their power to make sure he doesn’t become overwhelmed prior to the start of the men’s singles event.
But thanks to the team competition, where he skated the short program, Chan said he is feeling good, like he can breath.
“I did feel I had a lot of pressure lifted off me because I have an Olympic medal in my hand, and I can say it’s mine,” he said. “I’ve touched many people’s gold medal, like Scott’s (Moir) gold medal from Vancouver, and other Olympians, and I could never say it’s my own. But I can actually take this one home and say its my own, and I can have it forever.
“So it’s really cool to feel that, and somehow that’s helped me feel a lot less pressure on myself, and a bit less pressure from Canada, not that I feel that there was any in the first place. But it’s nice to know that I have one under my belt,” Chan added. “I have something that some of the other skaters don’t even have yet. And may not ever have either.”
A couple of years ago, Chan was head and shoulders the best skater in the men’s field. But now there are at least three others here who could win the gold.
Yuzuru Hanyu, the 19-year-old Japanese sensation, defeated Chan at the ISU Grand Prix Final in December while breaking the Canadian’s world record in the short program (99.84) and appears to get better with each performance.
As well, three-time Olympic medallist Evgeni Plushenko of Russia is coming off two solid performances in the team event.
Yuzuru, Plushenko and Chan finished 1-2-3 respectively in the team short program last Thursday after Chan made a couple of mistakes, downgrading a triple to a double after landing a quad and stumbling out of a triple Axel.
Another contender in men’s singles Spain’s Javier Fernandez, the 2013 world bronze medallist. Both Fernandez and Hanyu are coached by Brian Orser out of the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.
Orser, Canada’s silver medallist at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and the 1987 world champion, has established himself as one of the best coaches in the world. He guided South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the women’s singles gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Orser said his skaters have to “play the Patrick game” here in Sochi.
“They’re fans of Patrick. They like Patrick. They really admire his skating,” said Orser. “(But) Patrick was in a class by himself because of his skills of skating and his control of the edge and the blade. I mean that’s right up my alley (as a coach) and that’s what we’ve been working on. But the jumps and everything will come because of that. And we’ve been narrowing the gap, every season it gets a little bit closer, little bit closer, I think the GOEs (grade of execution) and the components show that. A couple of years ago, it wasn’t like that. It was Patrick, a point and a half difference in each component over everybody else. Now, we’re kind of getting in some of the same scores, we’re getting some 9.5s and 9.75s and the odd 10.”
The bottom line, Chan probably wins the gold medal here if everyone skates their best program. But with the way Yuzuru has progressed and with the 31-year-old Plushenko riding the emotion of the crowd, the Canadian certainly isn’t bulletproof.