SOCHI, RUSSIA - On a sad and dreary night for men’s figure skating, Patrick Chan did not really win a silver medal.
He lost gold.
He squandered away the opportunity of a lifetime. He could have been, should have been, the first Canadian to win the Olympic men’s figure skating title in a most underwhelming competition, only he lost his nerve, his way, his focus and the chance to make history.
Instead, he becomes yet another one to add to the list. Another of the 14 Canadian world figure skating champions who have come to the Olympic Games in various countries and various venues and not skated to their capabilities. The so-called Canadian curse got to Chan, the world champion in each of the past three years, who did his best spinning off the ice afterwards.
“I’m smiling because I look at not just today,” said Chan, wearing one of those uncomfortable forced grins that sports psychologists forced upon our athletes.
He wasn’t happy. How could he be? “You can’t define an athlete because of one day,” he said.
But, in fact, you can. This is what the Olympics are all about. This is why we tune in. This is why we care so much and celebrate so enthusiastically. This is why we celebrate magic in Donovan Bailey or Marnie McBean, who won their races when the brightest lights were shining and the world was tuned in.
It’s doing the Alex Bilodeau thing, finding a way to make 24 seconds count every four years, digging down, delivering, leaving a calling card. Just finding a way, any way, to get it done. Instead of 24 seconds, Chan needed just under five minutes to get it right.
And when Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, winner of the short program, fell all over himself in the long program Friday, the gold had been wrapped and packaged for Chan. All he had to be was average for himself: He needed to score 182.57 to win gold.
That’s something he could normally do in his sleep.
And now there has to be deep regret, even if he isn’t saying so, the way Brian Orser feels regret, the way Kurt Browning feels regret, the way Elvis Stojko feels regret, the way world champions of years gone by were unable to convert — to use the Canadian Olympic Committee term. The curse of the Canadians. It’s real and not spectacular.
And this time it’s different from Orser’s silvers and Stojko’s silvers. Orser could have been gold in either Sarajevo or Calgary. He was that great. Stojko, with two silver medals, should have been awarded gold in 1994. Chan wins the same coloured medal: But he wasn’t robbed at all Friday night. His inability to execute ended whatever chance he had at gold.
“I look at the huge exhilaration and happy times and me standing on top of the podium many, many times throughout my career and just because I’m standing on the side of the podium today doesn’t change the fact that I still believe I’m the very best in the world,” said Chan.
If he believes that, fine. If his team, saying the same thing, believes that, fine. No one else does. The post-event psycho-babble began almost from the moment Chan left the ice. It was foist upon him. They got to him quickly: Finding a way to spin defeat into happy consolation.
But make no mistake. This was defeat.
“The magic didn’t happen,” said Orser, coach of the gold medallist by acclamation — Hanyu. He hung in for a victory not necessarily deserved. Orser wanted everyone to skate well. Almost no one did. As a Canadian, he would have been thrilled for Chan to win. Instead, he winds up coaching gold and called the night bittersweet.
“I absolutely feel for Patrick,” he said, finally getting his piece of Olympic men’s gold as coach of Hanyu. Most of Canada probably feels the same way right now. There seemed to be two victories more important than any other here: the men’s figure skating and the men’s hockey tournament. One opportunity gone. One still to come.
But it was a blow to see Chan now and probably forever, standing on the wrong step on the podium even if he kept referencing the fact that he has won two silver medals in these Olympics. The first came in the team skating competition, one of the great unimportant medals of the Games in a sport created to add a little more skating to the Olympic docket.
And now he has individual silver instead of gold, the same medal Stojko won twice and Orser won twice and probably both deserved better fates.
No one was saying Chan was robbed last night. No one could make that argument. “I think it’s important we celebrate the silver medal,” said Chan’s coach Kathy Johnson, fibbing ever so slightly.
Patrick Chan, saying sorry to the television cameras, did not look like he wanted to celebrate anything because there was nothing to truly celebrate on Friday.