Brian Orser hopes Patrick Chan won't suffer similar fate

Canadian silver medallist Patrick Chan (L) and gold medallist Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu on the podium...

Canadian silver medallist Patrick Chan (L) and gold medallist Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu on the podium after the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics men's figure skating free program at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, on Friday Feb. 14, 2014. (Al Charest/QMI Agency)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - In the media zone deep in the bowels of the Iceberg Skating Palace Friday, figure skating coach Brian Orser stood off to the side as a swarm of Japanese and Canadian journalists rushed over to get a few words.

Orser’s skater, the Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu, had just defeated Orser’s fellow Canadian, Patrick Chan, for the gold medal in men’s singles. And while Orser was obviously pleased that his skater had won, he was also feeling a deep sense of sadness for Chan.

Like Chan, Orser was a world champion coming into an Olympics. And like Chan, he was unable to win the Olympic gold. Orser said it took him years to get over that fact — it took him 10 full years before he could watch his performance from the 1988 Calgary Olympics again — and he was worried that Chan would suffer a similar fate. And that’s why when Orser gave Chan a hug after the long program, he said he felt more emotional than when he hugged his own skater, Hanyu.

At a media conference the day after the long program, Chan seemed genuinely touched by Orser’s expression of concern. Chan said that, yes, he does expect there’ll be tough times ahead as he deals with the fact that, as a three-time world champion, he was unable to win the gold in Sochi — the seventh Canadian world champion not to win Olympic gold in men’s singles.

“I probably had four-to-five hours of sleep last night because I was so busy thinking about those moments, those split-second moments that could have changed everything,” Chan said of his long program. “Luckily I have people to talk to — a girlfriend or a friend or parents, or coaches to help me through those moments. I’m lucky to have a great entourage of people who have my back, just having people tell you that they love you no matter what and that they’re behind you every step of the way.

“That’s how you get through it initially,” he added, his voice on the verge of cracking. “Being with friends, talking in the athletes’ lounge and laughing and having a great time . . . but like Brian said, it’s hard. It’s going to take years for sure to go to bed and not think about those split seconds that could have changed everything.”

Hanyu set a world record in the short on Thursday and held a four-point lead over Chan heading into the long. But the young Japanese star opened the door for Chan. Skating just before the Canadian, Hanyu’s long program was anything but perfect and all Chan needed to win the gold was a long program score of 182.57, a score certainly attainable for a man who set the world record of 196.75 just two months prior.

But after nailing his opening quad-toe-triple-toe jump combo, Chan began to unravel and managed a score of only 178.10.

Everybody reacts in different ways to adversity and pressure. After his long program, American skater Jeremy Abbott lashed out at the media for what he considered years of unjust criticism and for suggesting that he was a choke.

“I would just love to . . . alright, Barb (Reichert, U.S. team director of communications), you’re going to kill me . . . I just want to put my middle finger in the air and say a big ‘F-you’ to everyone who has ever said that to me because they’ve never stood in my shoes and they’ve never had to do what I’ve had to do.”

Chan said he understood where Abbott, one of his training mates in Detroit, was coming from, though he made his point with a little more class.

“Absolutely, I agree with him. I don’t know if I agree with the middle finger, but I definitely agree with some of his comments on how harsh we’re scrutinized and how we’re looked at with a magnifying glass,” he said. “It’s very easy to watch from the outside and criticize. I do that all the time to other skaters. It’s really easy to be in that position. But once you’re on that ice, you’re by yourself.

“I wish everyone could experience what it feels like to be on that ice by yourself,” Chan added. “It feels lonely and it’s tough. It’s a tough challenge. It’s very easy to say words and blast someone or to say they’re a choker or whatever. It’s very easy to do that, and I don’t think it’s fair.”

But unlike Abbott, Chan blamed no one but himself for his disappointing long program, and he certainly doesn’t feel any resentment toward the media.

“I actually thank them,” he said. “I thank the media and everyone for having put that weight on my shoulders because that made me grow up very quickly and made me who I am and made me the athlete I am — hopefully a great figure skater in history. The media played a huge role in helping me grow, and Rosie (DiManno) and yourself, you’ve seen me grow since I was little and you’ve seen me grow all along the way, that’s really cool from your perspective to see an athlete grow in such a way.”

Chan was non-committal about the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, though he hinted that he’ll likely retire from competitive skating. He also wouldn’t say whether he’ll compete at the world championships next month in Saitama, Japan.

“I’m pretty exhausted,” he said. “I think I need to take time to regain perspective and take time for myself.”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

twitter @beezersun

 

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