Chan adds another year-end honour

Patrick Chan's world championship victorty was the highlight of an undefeated season that earned the Toronto skater the Lionel Conacher Award as the Canadian Press male athlete of the year for 2011.

World champion figure skater wins CP top athlete nod

Patrick Chan ended an undefeated season with victory at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating final in Quebec City. His effort earned him another laurel, CP top athlete. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A few words from the mouth of a rival may have defined Patrick Chan's magnificent season.

Daisuke Takahashi was asked after the short program at the world figure skating championships what it would take to catch the young Canadian, who had assembled a nearly insurmountable lead over his Japanese opponent.

"A miracle," Takahashi said simply.

Chan went on to capture his first world title in spectacular fashion, setting three world scoring records in the process in one of the most dominant victories ever in men's figure skating.

The victory in Moscow was the highlight of an undefeated season that earned the Toronto skater the Lionel Conacher Award as the Canadian Press male athlete of the year for 2011.

Chan garnered 102 points to run away with the award in balloting among sports editors and broadcasters across the country.

Tennis player Milos Raonic was second with 70 points ahead of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre (66), Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (47), and skier Erik Guay (37).

"I never went into skating wanting to win awards or anything, I just went into skating because I loved what I did and it was just exciting to be on the ice alone sometimes and just skate in front of an audience," Chan said. "So to be rewarded for doing something that you've worked so hard to accomplish is like the icing on the cake."

Chan is only the third figure skater to win the Conacher Award (named after the all-rounder voted Canada's male athlete of the half-century in 1950) since it was first handed out in 1932. Kurt Browning claimed the honour in 1990 and '91, and Elvis Stojko in 1994.

"It's huge because it's recognition of how dominant one skater has been over the year and how skating is a landmark Canadian sport," said Skate Canada's CEO William Thompson. "It's nice to be back on the radar, people are paying attention to it."

At just 20 years of age, he turns 21 on New Year's Eve, Chan's breakthrough 2011 season leaves the impression he's only on the ascent of a lofty career.

Chan emerged from a disappointing 2010 Olympic season that saw him finish fifth at the Vancouver Games to elevate his skating to eights far above his closest rivals.

"He's been, in this year, much like Usain Bolt was in the (2008) Olympic year, totally dominated his sport, won every event and didn't just win by a little but he won by a lot," said Thompson. "Not everyone understands the points in figure skating but it was a significant lead over the field the entire year."

His 22-point lead at the world championships was comparable to winning the 100 metres by a full second, or 10 metres. His total score of 280.98 in Moscow was also a whopping 22 points better than the gold-medal score posted by American Evan Lysacek at the Vancouver Olympics.

More to come

But Chan sees his strong season as just laying the foundation. He envisions dominating his sport for the forseeable future, figure skating's version of Roger Federer in tennis. or golfer Tiger Woods in his heyday.

"I think this is the beginning," Chan said. "Just like Roger Federer [and Woods], they dominated for X amount of time and look where they are. Even if they're not always winning, they're still up there because they made a mark on the sport.

"I think it's time for someone to do that and it would be a dream of mine to be able to accomplish that."

Chan's 2011, both on and off the ice, resembled little of the previous frustrating season marked by illness and a calf injury, plus the emotional upheaval of changing coaches and a move from Florida to Colorado Springs, Colo.

He has a newfound commitment to his health and fitness, keeping a careful eye on what he eats and how much he sleeps, plus a strength and conditioning program that has seen his body fat drop to seven per cent from 11.

"Figure skating is quite an old sport and it's quite behind in that aspect, so I hope through me doing it that people will pick it up and learn from me," he said of his off-ice training program.

Quad tops his skill set

But what truly sent him soaring past his opponents was adding the quad to his arsenal of skating skills. While Chan was already on top of the world with his exquisite skating, spins, and artistry, adding the four-revolution jump has completed the package, and put him in a class by himself.

"The quad seems to have upped the whole entire level of the program and my status I guess," Chan said. "The quad, not only is it a difficult jump or a jump that gives you a lot of points, it's also a very satisfying jump to do personally.

"On a personal level it's exciting to go into it, there's no noise, all you can hear is yourself skating, and just nailing it just right."

Despite his heady season, Chan has kept his feet firmly on the ground. He remains a favourite with the media for his engaging, straight-forward demeanour. He's fluent in English, French and Cantonese. He plays golf and tennis, skis and mountain bikes.

"He has not changed at all," Thompson said. "I think his family has kept him very grounded, he does other activities, he's academically been very strong ... he has other things that keep him a nicely rounded and balanced individual, so it doesn't become solely about skating, which I think is very healthy."   

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