The last thing Patrick Chan needs right now is a history lesson.
The three-time world champion knows the math. He need not be reminded that no Canadian – most notably the seven men’s world champions to come out of this country – has ever captured a men’s figure skating gold medal at the Olympic Games.
A nation is turning to its 23-year-old champion to change that history.
In Vancouver four years ago, at just 19 years of age, Chan admits he put too much pressure on himself to try to get to the podium in an Olympics on his home soil. Instead, he struggled to harness his emotions, finishing fifth, a result he has referred to as “disappointing” ever since.
This time around, despite the three consecutive world championships in his back pocket, Chan isn’t putting the weight of the country on his shoulders.
“Vancouver was a lot of pressure,” Chan admits. “I was young, I was 19 and I was like ‘Yeah, I’m going to win a medal and how cool is it going to be to stand on a podium in Canada?’”
“In four years, you can learn a lot. I’ve won three world titles in that time. I’m a much different person now, on and off the ice.”
Pressure or not, Chan knows the eyes of Canada will be on him when the curtain lifts on the men’s short program in Sochi Thursday. The earlier team event – where Canada won silver – may turn out to be blessing in disguise for Chan, who struggled to an unlikely third-place finish in the men’s short, placing behind current nemesis Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Russian legend Evgeni Plushenko. Chan admits it wasn’t the skate he wanted, but says the team event gave him a chance to go through a program at the Olympics, to settle the nerves and get his proverbial feet under him.
Call it a dress rehearsal of sorts.
On Thursday, it’s showtime.
“After getting the silver medal it’s really a lot of pressure off me,” Chan says of the team event.
“It’s cool to finally have a medal in your hand and say that it’s your own,” he told a press conference earlier this week. “I didn’t have that chance in Vancouver.”
While most of Canada will be holding its breath watching Chan attempt to chase history, don’t count out Kevin Reynolds, who laid down a sterling performance in the men’s free program at the team competition. Coming off a fifth-place showing at the world championships in London, Ont. 11 months ago, if the door to the podium opens even slightly, Reynolds could walk right in and grab a medal.
After spending most of the year away from competition dealing with boot issues, Reynolds rolled out his rocking, AC/DC-driven short program at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships last month.
On Thursday, Reynolds will showcase the program to the rest of the world. If those two-plus minutes don’t get your feet tapping, you may want to check your pulse.
Liam Firus, another B.C. native, will also be competing in his first Olympic Games.
In the months leading up to these Games – in fact, since he claimed his first world title in 2011 – talk has revolved around Chan being that guy to finally break the Canadian Olympic hex. Chan is well aware of the chatter, having lived it for the past four years, but he is trying hard not focus on names like Browning, Stojko, Orser or Buttle.
No, instead, Chan has his sights set on the likes of Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez, Daisuke Takahashi and yes, Plushenko, just a few of the imposing obstacles that stand in the way of his quest for gold.
“What I’ve been working on the last two or three weeks leading up to these Games is not busying myself thinking, ‘Am I training as hard as the other skaters? Am I a better skater? Are my quads better than Yuzuru’s or Daisuke’s, or whoever?’”
“It’s been a constant battle, like the devil on my shoulder and the angel on my other side. It’s a constant battle between positive and negative thoughts, thinking ‘am I going to beat them even if I’m at my best?’”
This Olympic crown is what Chan often refers to as his “Holy Grail”. It is the only thing missing from his sparkling resume. No matter what happens over these next couple of days, Chan knows the sun will come up the day after – in Sochi and in Canada. Gold or not, what happens in Sochi will not define his legacy.
“If I win or not here, people will go on with their lives,” he says. “I will go on with my life.”
It’s all about the pressure, and Chan is determined not to put too much on himself. He knows what is at stake. After four long years, Chan’s Holy Grail is once again within reach.
“I’m ready,” he said before leaving for Sochi.
“I think it’s time.”