x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Canadian figure skater Chan is on a gold mission in Sochi

Compatriots Elvis Stojko and Kurt Browning were treated as rock stars during the 1980s and 1990s, when Canadian men glided to eight world titles in 11 years but the skating landscape for Chan is very different.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada is determined to impress on an Olympic stage depsite a heavy dose of criticism. Barbara Walton / EPA
Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada is determined to impress on an Olympic stage depsite a heavy dose of criticism. Barbara Walton / EPA

When a five-year-old Patrick Chan took his first wobbly steps on a skating rink, he piled on the warm layers on his skinny frame to escape the chill. Little did he know that over the next 18 years he would have to develop a thick skin.

As the winner of three successive world titles, Chan would have expected to be showered with plaudits and hailed as the man who could be the first Canadian to win men’s figure-skating gold, at the Sochi Games.

But whereas compatriots Elvis Stojko and Kurt Browning were treated as rock stars during the 1980s and 1990s, when Canadian men glided to eight world titles in 11 years, but no Olympic gold, the skating landscape for Chan is very different.

Chan’s gold medal-winning routine at last year’s world championships was so shocking, with him being left bruised and bashed after several spills, that he came under attack for ending on top of the podium.

One critic started collecting signatures to petition the governing body to overturn the result, and others complained that the Ottawa native had once again been the beneficiary of “Chanflation” – getting higher marks than he deserved thanks to his past reputation.

Chan apologised for his performance but he was wounded by the barrage of criticism from former champions and fans alike when it was a panel of international judges who had put him ahead of the chasing pack.

“‘Chanflation?’ I don’t believe in it,” he said, adding that if critics “have a problem with it, they should talk to the judges and not blame me. I’m just going out there to do my job.”

What Chan, the son of Chinese immigrants, has shown is that since 2011 no one knows how to work the accumulative scoring system – which replaced the 6.0 format following the 2002 Olympics – better than he does.

“Skating is more than just points. I’m so emotionally involved in my performances and if I can have the audience feel the same way by watching me then I have won.”

Pulling off “a clean programme” is something that has eluded Chan at major competitions despite his glittering success.

Chan will be keen to wipe out memories of the stumbles he made even while winning world championships, and at Paris last year he captivated the crowd while setting a record for the highest score under the new system, 295.27 points.

In doing so, he will be keen to prove wrong those who accuse him of episodes of stage fright on the big occasions and bring home a prize that escaped the grasps of the Canadian greats Brian Orser, Stojko and Browning.

The skater who once created a stir and sparked a backlash for voicing that he might have been better appreciated had he skated for a less ice hockey-obsessed China – the country of his parents’ birth – arrived in Russia with only one goal.

“You know what? I’m so proud to be Canadian, so proud to skate for Canada and to go to these next Olympics being seven-times national champion is huge,” said the multilingual Chan, who is fluent in English, French and Cantonese.

“I’ve put the work in. I just need to believe in it.”

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