Patrick Chan has every right to be proud of his Chinese heritage, say Skate Canada officials who scoffed at the notion Canada's world champion could switch allegiances to China.
The 20-year-old from Toronto has caused a stir at the ISU Grand Prix Final this week for comments he made in a Reuters story about figure skating in Canada. Chan said he feels unappreciated in his home country and is becoming increasingly drawn to his Chinese heritage.
"Several years ago I felt more Canadian but I'm slowly feeling more Chinese and feel I should be more proud of being Chinese and appreciate where I've come from. [This is because] of the support I get from the Chinese community in Canada," Chan was quoted as saying.
"I do [wish I could have represented both China and Canada when I compete]. That would be the ideal situation… in a perfect world."
The comments in the story published this week were from an interview conducted in September, shortly after he returned home from a trip to China to skate in several shows and visit family.
"This story will go in circles, it's been taken out of context," said Skate Canada's high performance director Mike Slipchuk. "There's nothing we can do about that. We know his intent, those that know him — even from the media — know his intent."
Chan was expected to speak to reporters following his practice later Thursday.
In a multicultural country like Canada, people should understand Chan's pride in his heritage, argued Skate Canada's president William Thompson. Chan's parents are Chinese immigrants.
"I think it's pretty wonderful he's getting to see his culture, it's important for him. It's part of him," said Thompson. "He's just sort of saying that he respects them and is proud of both heritages."
The skater who set three world records en route to winning gold at the world championships last spring in Moscow said the Chinese government is proud of its figure skaters, while the sport is overshadowed by hockey's popularity in Canada. On Thursday, Sportsnet named Chan as its Canadian athlete of the year.
"I'm extremely well recognized in Korea just because of what I do on the ice and there is a lack of that in Canada because hockey is our sport and it will be for eternity," Chan was quoted as saying. "Figure skating has lost the draw and the attention [it used to have before]."
Slipchuk said it's difficult to compare the sport in the 1990s when Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko were skating superstars in Canada.
"This whole sport is a different landscape, the '90s with Kurt and Elvis … Tonya Harding, the whole sport exploded in '93, '94, for about five years there was so much going on … but the market's changed."
Chan also said his parents would not have had to make the financial sacrifices for figure skating had he grown up in China.
"We know all our families make sacrifices, our sport's expensive," Slipchuk said. "Sport is expensive, not just our sport. We know how much he acknowledges and recognizes the support and sacrifices his parents have made. But that's sport."
The defending Grand Prix Final champion is the favourite again this week in Quebec City. He's the only men's singles skater to have won gold in both his Grand Prix events — Skate Canada and the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris.
Slipchuk isn't concerned that this bit of controversy will affect Chan — never one to shy away from saying what's on his mind — this week.