Road To The Olympic Games

Analysis

Patrick Chan went from champion to legend during his career

Patrick Chan is the latest in a long line of Canadian men who have made the leap from figure skating champion to figure skating legend, writes CBC Sports' expert Pj Kwong.

Canadian figure skater retires after decorated career

Patrick Chan's ability to marry technical ability and artistry made him stand out during his career. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The first time I saw Patrick Chan, I was waiting with a group of skaters to go on the ice for an evening rehearsal for a show. It was a Saturday night and you could usually count on the ice being empty which is how I was able to book it.

When we arrived, there he was — a little kid skating with his parents watching from the side of the rink.

The threesome, out for some family time, was in no hurry to vacate the open session. My group was happy to wait, because watching Chan skate even then, you could sense he was something special.

The Olympic champion looks back on his figure skating career, and ahead to what's next in his journey. 11:05

At the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in 2008 in Vancouver, a 17-year-old Chan was brilliant in the free program. The music was Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and the genius choreography of Lori Nichol capitalized on the natural musicality of Chan himself.

Every beat of music was used. The look on Chan's face showed his passion for skating, and with his smile, his ability to understand and celebrate his successes throughout the program.

The crowd felt it too and were applauding for 30 seconds before the end of his program, and on their feet before the end of Chan's final spin. It was pure magic.

Chan was up against three-time national champion and 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Jeffrey Buttle. Chan claimed his first of 10 national titles in 2008 in Vancouver. Coming full circle, Chan also claimed his final title in the same city in 2018.

Lots of people have tried to quantify what made Chan's skating special. For me, it was his enviable ability to glide from one side of the rink to the other, seemingly without effort.

Chan's place in history

Chan is the latest in a long line of Canadian men who have made the leap from figure skating champion to figure skating legend. The difference between the two is that champions win titles, while legends change the sport in some way.

There was Montgomery Wilson, who held the record for most Canadian men's titles at nine between 1929 and 1939. He was followed by Toller Cranston, a six-time national champion and 1976 Olympic bronze medallist who was the first man to demonstrate a fluid artistic style.

Then there was 1960 Olympic bronze medallist Don Jackson, the first man to land a triple Lutz jump in competition at worlds in 1962, and Vern Taylor, the first man to land a triple Axel at worlds in 1978.

Four-time world champion Kurt Browning was the first man to land a quadruple jump in competition at the 1988 worlds. Brian Orser was the first Canadian man to win Olympic medals — two silvers — at two consecutive Olympic Games.

Chan joined CBC's John Northcott to reflect on his storied figure skating career, and his decision to retire from the sport at 27-years-old. 6:53

Elvis Stojko was the next man to duplicate that feat by winning silvers at the 1994 and 1998 Olympics. Stojko also was the first to land a quadruple/double combination jump in competition, which he did at worlds in 1991.

And then came Chan, who took all of those accomplishments from those who had come before him, and matched or exceeded them. Chan's career included three world titles and three Olympic medals — two silvers in individual and team events at Sochi 2014 and one gold in the team event at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"Patrick's impact on the sport has been instrumental to the continued success of figure skating in Canada. His strong technical ability combined with his effortless skating made him one of the best the world has ever seen and has brought endless memories to skating fans worldwide," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director.

'It feels right, it feels good,' the 27-year-old three-time world champion tells CBC's Ian Hanomansing. 0:51

"Patrick's achievements are a testament to his hard work, dedication, and humble personality, which enabled him to reach the highest accomplishments at the world and Olympic level. We wish Patrick every success in his new chapter and thank him for having us along for this incredible ride."

For the world, Chan's gift has been to push the men's field artistically as well as technically. He was the first in his generation to take skating skills, technical ability, artistry and musicality and make them required elements in men's figure skating and the sport is better for it.

Chan announced his retirement from competition on Monday; clearly the end of an era. The door is now open for the next Canadian legend to leave their mark on the ice.

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