CBC Sports

The wonder of a boy

Posted: Monday, November 3, 2008 | 11:19 AM

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When it comes to Patrick Chan I can only tell you what I saw. And it was something special.

Canada’s young figure skating champion is a teenager. Others may call him a phenomenon or supremely talented or maybe even the complete package. I figure it’s much simpler than that. Patrick Chan is a kid who’s just learning the magic of play.

To watch him win at Skate Canada International over the weekend was fascinating. Every time he took to the ice, whether it was in practice or competition, he silently delivered a message. “Watch me!”

In this respect, Chan is that wonderful, joyous celebration of youth personified. Where others are athletically crafted and technically accomplished, Chan is just Chan.

Simple self

By comparison those he competes against can seem contrived - the costume, the routine, the measured approach to the difficult jumps, the little look down as the intricate footwork is delivered.

Not Patrick Chan.

This 17-year-old imp has taken to making the ice rink into the field of play - literally. With each sweeping movement of his arms or the way he smiles while leaping through hoops, he looks so much like a little boy whose skipping stones as he runs barefoot on the sandy shore. He’s sort of like a puppy that hasn’t discovered all the mischief there is to get into in his own backyard.

Kurt Browning, the four-time world champion, shook his head as he thought about how different Patrick Chan is and the depth of his potential.

“I hate to use this analogy,” Browning said over a beer at the airport. “He’s like Gretzky. You know how it is. If you’re the defender and you think you’ve got him - you don’t! He dangles the puck and you go for him but he’s gone with all kinds of time to make the pass and you’ve missed your chance.”

Browning was exceptional in his day. Acknowledged as the greatest jumper and the consummate showman, even he can’t put a finger on what Patrick Chan might develop into.

“All I know is, some of the spins he does, I could never get into those positions,” Browning figured. “Well, maybe when I fell!”

A competitive, humble spirit

Chan is just that good - or rather, he has the glimmer of the rare gem.

There are two vignettes that epitomized the wonder of the boy as a less than perfect, but nevertheless, winning effort unfolded in Ottawa. The first was immediately after Chan’s engaging free skate where there had been a few mistakes. He sat with his coach Don Laws in the “Kiss and Cry” and waited for the marks.

“This might be tough,” Laws said simply, and in the most gentle of ways. Chan just nodded and looked the part of a scolded child. If you didn’t know the situation, the scene was reminiscent of a kid who had teased a dog and been nipped at only to be told by a kindly grandfather to wait it out on the park bench.

When the word was delivered that Chan was in the lead, the coach said nothing and Chan humbly mumbled something to the effect that he’d be better next time.

The most telling moment however, was in the gala as Chan delivered the exhibition performance that all champions are due. In an understated outfit of black and blue he skated to Italian, operatic music. He got close to the rink’s edge and lifted off. On the descent Chan caught an edge or something and crashed into the boards.

The crowd gasped.

The champion stayed down for a second at most. Then he leapt up, dusted himself off and continued on his way. He tried more jumps and this time Patrick Chan landed them with flair.

Having fallen off the “Jungle Gym” in the playground he was on his way to another adventure.

Patrick Chan is exceptionally talented, it’s true, but he is so much more. He is a delightful, magical boy with the world by the tail and so much charm yet to discover.

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