Road To The Olympic Games

Patrick Chan is going out on his own terms

After a pair of disappointing Olympic finishes, and with his sport passing him by in some ways, Patrick Chan has decided to skate for himself at his final Winter Games.

‘This is it, this is me,’ says 3-time world champ of his final Olympic programs

After a pair of disappointing Olympic results, Patrick Chan is determined to skate for himself at his final Winter Games. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)

By Callum Ng, CBC Sports

Patrick Chan prefers to think of himself like Switzerland.

This has nothing to do with chocolate, watches, mountains or cheese. It's about neutrality. Chan likes to say he has chosen no side in the struggle between artistry and technical supremacy in men's figure skating, which has increasingly become a jumping competition.

But he has in fact made a choice. As he skates in his third and final Olympic Winter Games, Chan has decided to skate for himself as the men's event opens Thursday (watch live on the CBC Olympics app at 8 p.m. ET) — no matter how that affects his results.

In November, Chan left coach Marina Zoueva and moved his training base from Michigan to Vancouver. It was a startling change to make three months before an Olympics. But Chan says he felt alienated from his non-skating friends because of his athletic lifestyle, and he began to dread another lonely Michigan winter.

"I just had a very, very bad feeling about it and I just knew I had to get out of there," Chan says. "Even for a week or two, just to get a different sense of what life is somewhere else."

VIDEO | Patrick Chan is savouring the moment in Pyeongchang

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Vancouver was a revelation for the Toronto-raised Chan — a much bigger city than Canton, Mich., with a lot more to do, beautiful natural surroundings and fresh Pacific air. He can't stop raving about British Columbia.

The move followed a troubled fourth-place showing at the Skate Canada International Grand Prix event in late October. That performance shook Chan and caused him to take baby steps back to full training by mid-November.

All that put him in a much different place than during the lead up to the 2014 Olympics, when Chan was the three-time defending world champion. He settled for a silver in Sochi, then finished fifth at the last two world championships.

In the meantime, the 27-year-old has lived through an evolution in men's figure skating that has seen the sport turn into what often feels like a jump-off.

Chan says that, back in 2010, when he was making his Olympic debut, it was impressive to see one quad jump in a program. Today, 18-year-old American Nathan Chen, this season's Grand Prix Final champion, has a free skate packed with at least five quads.

This change doesn't suit Chan, who is known more for his artistry and ability to cover the ice. He has been an inconsistent jumper at times.

"[The sport] took that path of the more technical approach and that's what we're going to see at these Games" says Chan. "I think we all pick our own battles and I've picked mine."

Chan has chosen to include only two quads in his free skate and one in his short program at the Olympics.

"I shouldn't feel diminished at all," Chan says. "I think I can offer a lot in so many other ways than just quads, so I'm going to meet my quota technically and balance that out with my skating skills and my performance and what I love to do, which is perform and skate."

Going his own way

The choice to balance technical and artistic skating is driven by a deep desire that connects back to Chan's results at his first two Olympics.

In Vancouver, Chan finished fifth after tearing a calf muscle in the fall before the Olympics and changing coaches before the January nationals.

In Sochi, Chan was the favourite. When Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, who led after the short program, faltered in his free skate, it gave Chan a literal golden opportunity. But he bobbled the moment and finished as the runner-up.

Chan has already earned a measure of redemption in Pyeongchang by helping Canada win the team event, giving him his first Olympic gold. Now his focus is on creating a positive experience in the men's event, which opens Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

VIDEO | Chan comes through for Canada

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"The last two Olympics, I look back at it and I noticed that… the Games were sort of surrounded by a bit of fear and expectations," says Chan. "That's on me. That's what I allowed myself to be affected by."

Chan says, this time, for his final Olympics, he needs to know he can perform cleanly. He's built his programs with that in mind.

"A judge could give me zero points and I would still be like, honestly, I'm so happy, because I proved to myself that I can do this and I can perform the very best on one of the biggest stages."

Chan's free skate is to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah as performed by Jeff Buckley. Chan says that choice of music is about creating a magical world where he is the hero, skating his heart out to thank himself and his supporters.

"It's kind of like, this is it, this is me," says Chan.

"Take it or leave it, I am who I am and I hope to be like a legend, like Leonard Cohen, one day and never be forgotten."

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