SOCHI. RUSSIA - The gold medal was there. All Patrick Chan had to do was go out and skate his long program like he had done many times before.
His main rival, Yuzuru Hanyu, who had set a world record in the short on Thursday night, skated his long program right before the Toronto skater on Friday night and laid out a program full of mistakes, opening the door for Chan to become the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold in men’s singles figure skating.
Chan needed a score of 182.57 in his long to pass the Japanese teenager. Chan’s best long program score this season was 196.75, a world record, so it was certainly attainable. All he had to do was essentially skate a good long program — not even an exceptional one.
But in the end, the Canadian Olympic drought in men’s singles skating continued. Chan opened his long program at the Iceberg Skating Palace with a sensational quad toe-triple toe jump combo, and there was a sense in the air that he was going to do it. But then the agonizing meltdown began. He touched on his next quad toe, over-rotated his triple Axel, doubled a planned triple salchow at the end of a three-jump combination, stepped out of a double Axel and didn’t perform his foot combination spin to his usual standards. He needed 182.57 for the gold. He got 178.10, allowing Hanyu to take the gold. Chan took the silver — the fifth silver medal for a Canadian in men’s singles at an Olympics — and Denis Ten of Kazakhstan captured bronze.
“I’m so sick to my stomach,” said Kurt Browning, who won four world titles for Canada. “The salchow and the Axel, it was impossible to watch. To see Javier (Fernandez) give it away, and then to see Hanyu give it away and then to see Patrick give it back, it was very emotional.”
It was certainly not a great evening of skating. The top three skaters after Thursday’s short program — Hanyu, Chan and Fernandez of Spain — performed sub-par longs. The skid started with Fernandez, who dropped from third to fourth, allowing Ten to get the bronze. And then 19-year-old Hanyu, who looked unbeatable in his short, skated his Romeo and Juliet-themed long as if he was nervous. When his score of 178.64 was announced, everyone knew that Chan, the three-time world champion, had a good chance of passing him.
But it was not to be. Afterward, Chan put on a brave face, though deep down he had to be crushed. Next to a men’s ice hockey gold medal at these Games, a win for Chan would have been the biggest Canadian story in Sochi.
“I think I’ll be crushed when I go home,” said Chan, who also collected a silver in the team event last weekend. “I think at the end of the day when I hold the two silver medals in my hands and I’m alone, I can maybe talk to myself and realize I had that chance, I had that gold medal in front of me and I just didn’t grasp it. It’s tough. But to me, two silver medals in my hands is just as good as a gold and a silver.”
Which is undoubtedly a spin job. A team and men’s singles silver certainly isn’t the same as men’s singles gold, especially with the frustrating history of Canadian men’s skating at the Olympics.
“At the end of the day, I have two heavy medals around my neck, and they’re silver medals, and nobody can take away that from me,” said Chan, who will likely retire at the end of this season. “Nobody can take away the fact that I’ve had an amazing journey as a figure skater, and I’m a three-time world champion, two-time silver medallist at the Olympics. Not many Canadians have achieved that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a gold.”
At 19 years and 69 days, Hanyu became the youngest Olympic men’s singles champion in 66 years. American Dick Button was 18 years and 202 days when he won gold at the 1948 St. Moritz Games. Hanyu’s win also marked Japan’s first gold medal at the Olympics in men’s singles.
Leading up to the Sochi Olympics, Chan was almost certainly feeling the pressure of the drought. And though he said he was relaxed and ready before his long, it appeared the pressure got to him.
“Only Patrick knows for sure,” said Browning. “Maybe it threw him that Hanyu didn’t have a great skate and maybe he was ready for the fight, and then because the door was unexpectedly opened pretty wide, he didn’t skate through it and he all of a sudden got a little cautious.”
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., who was fifth at last year’s world championships, bounced back from a poor short program on Thursday — which placed him way back in 17th — with a strong long. He landed three quads, though only one was scored as being clean. His score of 153.47 moved him up to 15th overall.
BITTERSWEET FOR ORSER
Toronto figure skating coach Brian Orser was full of mixed emotions at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Friday night.
On one hand, his skater, Japanese sensation Yuzuru Hanyu had just won the gold medal in men’s singles. On the other hand, there was Patrick Chan.
Chan was hoping to become the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal in men’s singles skating. Canadian men have won 14 world titles — Chan and Orser earning four between them. But none have won Olympic gold.
So how does the Sochi Olympics men’s singles competition work out? Orser is Canadian, and the skater he coaches, who is Japanese, beats Chan, who is also Canadian. And the drought continues.
“I feel bad,” said Orser. “Patrick’s such a great skater and he’s contributed so much to this sport. It’s bittersweet for me and I got more emotional giving Patrick a hug than I did my own skater.”
Orser won a world title in 1987 and Olympic silver medals in 1984 and 1988. He was unable to win an Olympic gold. Other Canadian men’s singles skaters who won world titles but were unable to match that feat at Olympics include Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Don Jackson, Donald McPherson, Jeffrey Buttle and now Chan. So when scrummed by the media on Friday night, Orser said he could certainly understand the frustration of Canadian skating fans after Chan had to settle for the silver.
“Figure skating’s our sport and when you think of all of our great male skaters, not one of them has won, me being one of them,” Orser said. “Elvis, Kurt, Jeff, Don Jackson, Toller Cranston, the list just goes on and on. And I hate when they say to you, ‘It’s a curse.’ It’s not a curse. It’s just not happening.”
When asked what he would say to Chan after the Toronto skater lost to Hanyu, Orser said: “Oh my God. I don’t know. He’ll sort through it. Nobody said anything to me (after I lost at the 1988 Calgary Olympics). I had to sort through it and it took me a long time. For me it was twice, for me it was at home. But it doesn’t matter where it is, it’s just heartbreaking. I just gave him a hug and that’s all I could do.”
Canada has now won nine medals in Olympic men’s singles — five silver and four bronze.