The next one
Canadian skater Patrick Chan prepares to take the torch from Jeff Buttle
Patrick Chan stood in the middle of an empty Vancouver rink last month having just concluded new elements to his long program.
To his delight, Chan, taking part in Skate Canada's training camp, looked up to see the approval of one notable observer.
Tracy Wilson, the 1988 Olympic bronze medallist and CBC's figure skating analyst, had just watched in amazement as the 17-year-old Toronto athlete performed flawlessly.
Wilson's endorsement reinforced the belief among observers in the sport that Chan is ready to become Canada's next great skater.
"When I was bowing she was on her feet cheering so I really appreciated it," Chan told CBCSports.ca. "I was glad that she liked it. I was really satisfied with my long program but it was still nice to get her feedback. She was quite happy with it."
More imaginative routine
As the newest Canadian champion, Chan didn't waste time making changes in order to keep up with the best skaters in the world, adding a second triple axel and a more imaginative routine to his long program, forgoing the more mechanical version he thought judges would find stale.
"Artistically, this program is more passionate," he says. "It's more detailed with my arms, my footwork, and the way I present myself. Last year I just went through the program, but now I'm putting emotion in it. I think that's what Tracy thought."
Don't get him wrong, Chan wouldn't trade last season's breakthrough. The whirlwind campaign — only his second on the senior level — began with a bronze-medal performance during the Skate America competition in Reading, Pa.
The Ottawa-born skater continued his ascent on the world stage with a victory at the Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris weeks later. Yet it was his performance at the Canadian championships last January that grabbed everyone's attention.
Trailing Jeffrey Buttle following the short program, Chan put on a memorable display in the free skating, setting personal bests with every move to dethrone his more experienced opponent.
At 17, Chan became the youngest Canadian men's champion, a moniker he wasn't necessarily expecting would come so quickly.
"I wasn't really striving for gold because I still knew Jeff was somewhat untouchable," says Chan. "I was able to keep close to Jeff points-wise after the short program. But the free skate really sold the whole me I guess. It was the determining factor. The season was going so well by that time and I was wondering when my breaking point would come."
The wait wasn't long.
Three months after the biggest moment of his young career, the pressure of the world championships in Goteborg, Sweden, seemed to unnerve Chan. Instead of dazzling the audience with his natural athleticism, Chan looked out of place against the world's best, finishing a disappointing ninth.
"I pretty much lost my focus," he admits. "I missed jumps that are usually a breeze in both my programs. I was kind of in a daze. I didn't really take each jump seriously. Now that I think back, I should've treated it like just another Grand Prix competition."
Handling the spotlight
Chan will have to get used to handling the spotlight alone now that Buttle is no longer there to shield him from it.
After surprising France's Brian Joubert to win the world title, Buttle stunned the skating community by announcing his retirement in September.
The news left a hole on the men's side for Skate Canada, which was anticipating having both Buttle and Chan for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The organization is counting on Chan to take the mantle from Buttle, a spot the Canadian champion is ready to seize.
"The recent success has given me confidence," he says. "I won the nationals and I deserved it because I worked hard for it. There's a little more than a year until the Olympics so I can use that time to get myself comfortable in this position. I have to accept it and embrace it."
For her part, Wilson is convinced Chan won't be affected by Buttle's absence. The former Olympian thinks his maturity and attention to detail will serve him well for the next two critical years.
"He just has a natural ease and grace across the ice," says Wilson. "The other thing is he's a student of the sport. He's like a sponge and every time you see him, he's improved. Whatever he has to do it's like he systematically goes about acquiring the skills to make it happen."
Changing of the guard
Chan's season begins at the Skate Canada event with the men's short program going Friday night (CBC Bold, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET) in Ottawa. While hopes are high, Chan isn't fazed by the responsibility of being Canada's latest leading man.
But with plenty riding on the shoulders of this teenage sensation, will fans truly witness a changing of the guard?
"I don't see why not," he says. "My expectations after the Grand Prix season are going to be that I think I can medal at this year's worlds. After watching Skate America [last week], it really made me confident and understand that anyone can win this."