Patrick Chan made headlines Thursday with his controversial interview
with Reuters, in which the world champion said he sometimes feels unappreciated in Canada, where he feels figure skaters aren't adequately supported.
The story makes for an interesting read, but there's one flaw: the views presented don't match up with the Patrick Chan I know.
The Reuters interview was conducted three months ago, so I find it interesting that this story would find its way into the headlines on the eve of the Grand Prix Final
in Quebec City, where Chan is one of the favourites
Do I think Chan said what he said? Absolutely. Do I think there is more to the story? Even more so.
That's why I called Chan on Thursday for an exclusive interview by phone from Quebec City. Here are my questions and his answers:What did you mean by saying that things would be different if your parents had not emigrated from China and you had grown up in and represented that country?Chan:
"Well, in skating or any amateur sport, as athletes we share something in common: the cost of training is quite a burden on our parents or on the athletes themselves trying to find a way to pay for their costs. My parents are very good parents and have already said that they will look after me until the end of my skating career. The fact that I made the comment about going to China was a reflection of daydreaming about a way to minimize those burdens. It was never meant in any way that I would want to live in and skate for China. I was thinking of my parents when I said that."
What about saying that you would want to represent China and Canada at the same time?Chan:
"I guess I was talking about my cultural roots. I am definitely Canadian, but of Chinese heritage. I was as excited as anything to [visit] China [last summer] for cultural reasons. I mean, to see the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall of China and to be in a place with so much culture and history, and to see where the Chinese marked their place in history, was really cool."Are you concerned that people will think that you are siding with a country accused of human rights violations?Chan:
"I had no idea until you said it right now that there are accusations of human rights violations against China. I didn't know. My thoughts and ideas have come from a cultural place."What did you mean when you suggested that, in China, there's more "respect" for figure skating?Chan:
"While I was [in China] it was clear that there is a lot of excitement around skating, like it was here in the 1990s with people like Kurt Browning. It seemed as if there was more appreciation for the sport there than here, which is too bad.
"From time to time I head to YouTube to watch videos of myself to see what I did well last year to win the worlds and to motivate myself. I have scrolled down at different times to look at the comments and have seen negative ones and it can be upsetting. I am learning that you can't please everybody. I know that in hockey the object of the game is simple in that you have to get the puck into the net. With figure skating, it's not as simple, and there is a ton of work that goes into it. I have a dream of getting all of the negative people on the ice with me at one time so that they could see what skaters go through from our perspective. That's what I mean about wanting respect for the sport."What does it mean to you to be Canadian?Chan:
"I love my country. I was born here and raised here and am proud to be Canadian. I appreciate the friends and support I get wherever I am. I don't always get that feeling living in Colorado Springs, but when I return home I love it when people come up to me. Even in the airport when I came back [to Canada] for the Grand Prix Final, two regular people came up to me. It means a lot."
Chan is many things. He's a great interview subject who will answer honestly any question that is asked of him. He also "thinks with his mouth open" as my mother used to say, which can get him in hot water. We all remember the time he took Brian Joubert to task at worlds a couple of years ago. Classic Chan.
Last summer, Chan toured Asia to perform in a series of figure skating shows. Japan, China and Korea are all currently experiencing the kind of skating mania that Canada enjoyed in the 1990s. At the Grand Prix Final in Seoul, Korea in December of 2008, Olympic champion Scott Moir told me he felt like a rock star there, complete with screaming fans.
As a young man, Chan has a lot to learn. It's not a stretch for me to imagine that he would think about the enormous cost that his parents are shouldering in order for him to be able to skate. He would know that the Chinese government often takes care of that for their skaters. But putting those two thoughts together may be a case of 2 + 2 = 5.
Chan made a political statement even though he's not a political person. Saying that he would, in an ideal world, want to represent China and Canada is a way of being a good son.
He's not the only first-generation Canadian to feel the pull of his heritage. My own children are half-Chinese, and one of the things I promised myself when they were born is that they would get to China to see where their father and his family had come from. In 2008, two of my three kids got the chance to do just that.
Chan, who only turns 21 on Dec. 31, is not shy about expressing his opinions. Just witness what he said when I asked him about the potentially embarrassing (for some) "Panties for Patrick"
campaign, in which fans are calling for undergarments to be thrown on the ice after his performances at the Grand Prix Final as a show of appreciation.
"I think it's great," he told me with a chuckle. "It's so funny that people would do that. I mean, maybe we could start a whole new judging trend. We could start to see how well we skated by how many 'Chanties' ended up on the ice. Maybe we should work off this system."
See what I mean? Ask him a question and he will give you an answer.
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