From my vantage point, two-time world figure skating champion Patrick Chan is in a bind.
He is no longer the boy wonder. Instead, he's been the leading man for quite some time. And now, not surprisingly, people are trying to knock him off his pedestal while others are anticipating his fall from grace.
So when Chan lost a major competition for the first time in almost two years
at Skate Canada last weekend, alarm bells started to ring. The critics were vocal and wondered aloud if the 21-year-old had lost his edge on the rest of the field.
True, his rivals are getting better. Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu has already posted a world-record score
in the short program at Skate America, and Spain's Javier Fernandez rolled out the quads in handily defeating Chan in Windsor, Ont.
But the reality is, Chan made a conscious decision at the outset of this season to not stand pat
. He's changed coaches and choreographers and hasn't yet found his rhythm. If the truth is told, he's looked unsure of himself, even bumbling at times as he struggled through the Japan Open and then finished as the silver medallist at Skate Canada.
Still, Chan is smart enough to know that unless he tries new things he won't stay on top for long.
We do know one thing about this supremely talented athlete. In spite of the sputtering start to his season and the quest to defend his world championship title on home ice in London, Ont., in March, he remains very confident in his own abilities, some even might say cocky.
"At the Olympics all I have to do is lay down my jumps," he said in the Skate Canada aftermath. "If I lay down my jumps no one can beat me."
Here's a word of caution for Chan: Hanyu and Fernandez are starting to believe that too. Former world champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan already does, and there are a few more skaters out there gunning for top billing in the men's ranks.
Here's what's patently obvious: Chan is fully aware that the competition is biting at his heels. It's getting pretty close. Everyone can see that.
But Chan is trying to adjust, and with the help of his new head coach Kathy Johnson and choreographers Jeff Buttle and David Wilson, refine the package and make it more complete. Chan and his handlers know that if he stagnates he'll surely be beaten.
The Olympics in Sochi are close now but there's still plenty of time.
Chan's already learned the most important lesson, which is to take nothing for granted and keep competing at the highest level possible. If the last two Olympic champions, Evgeni Plushenko of Russia and Evan Lysacek of the United States, think they can afford to take extended periods of time off and then just show up for the big dance, they should think again.
Figure skaters are raising the bar every time out, and the old bag of tricks can get stale in a hurry.
Chan knows that nothing is a given and anything can happen on the field of play.
This Saturday on Sports Weekend
The Cup of China marks the midway point of the ISU Grand Prix season, and one of Patrick Chan's chief rivals, Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, is centre stage in Shanghai. In addition, expectations are high for two-time world champion Mao Asada as she tries to establish herself as an Olympic favourite in the ladies' competition.
We'll also convene the Big Picture panel, with Maclean's magazine senior correspondent Jonathan Gatehouse, former world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien and Olympic freestyle skiing gold medallist Jenn Heil. Our topic of discussion is superstar alpine skier Lindsey Vonn and her desire to compete against the men at the Lake Louise World Cup. We'll also tackle the issue of gender equity in sport.
Sports Weekend is on the air for three hours on Saturday on CBC Television, beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
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