Olympics Winter

Chan jumping into uncharted territory

Patrick Chan will face the opportunity to become the first men's skater from Canada to win an Olympic gold medal having just turned 19 a handful of weeks before the Vancouver Games.

Canadian could make figure skating history in Vancouver

Patrick Chan is heading for uncharted territory with a tiger in his heart and a slight twinge still pulling at his left calf.

That he'll be facing the opportunity to become the first men's skater from Canada to win an Olympic gold medal having just turned 19 a handful of weeks before the Vancouver Games makes the fight ahead even more remarkable.

A Patrick Chan Primer

Born: Dec. 31, 1990, in Ottawa

Hometown: Toronto

Height: 171 cm / 5'7

Profession: Student (Ecole Secondaire Etienne Brule)

Coach: Don Laws

Choreographer: Lori Nichol

Chan speaks three languages fluently (English, French and Cantonese) … He began figure skating as a prelude to playing hockey. Stuck with figure skating … Other sports included tennis, skiing, swimming and tae kwon do … Father was a ping pong player and coach … Was coached by Osborne Colson until July, 2006, when Colson died at the age of 90.

Especially since the Toronto native could just as easily finish completely out of the medals as win the whole thing.

Much is to do with that calf injury the youngster claims is now nothing, really.

He suffered the small tear near the end of the summer and that took him out of what was to be his first Grand Prix event of the season, put back full training by months, and was still likely responsible for his sixth place finish when he returned at Skate Canada in late November.

Despite his protestations to the contrary.

"No, no, no, no…felt great," he told the madding crowd of journalists after the Skate Canada short program went awry. "I wasn't even thinking about my legs or anything, just thinking about the elements one by one like a checklist."

And on like that he went through the next day when the long program produced three falls and poor marks.

But it's the way Chan handled himself throughout that weekend in Kitchener that leaves one with the impression that if the thing can be done — if the calf can be fixed in time and the lost months made up for — it will be done by this man-child who could still, if he wished, be skating as a junior.

Quick rise

Chan has come so far, so fast and has handled it all with such aplomb it's difficult sometimes to remember the youth involved.

In 2003, when 12, he won pre-novice at nationals. In 2004 he was the novice champ and by 2005 was on top of the Canadian junior podium. Two years later it was a silver at the world juniors and by 2008 the national men's senior title was his.

Chan swept out of Los Angeles with a silver medal at the world championships this past spring. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
This past spring, Chan swept out of Los Angeles with a silver medal at the world championships, after a brilliant year that included two Grand Prix wins and victory at the Four Continents competition.

Remember that Brian Orser was 22 in 1984 when he went to Sarajevo for his maiden Olympics where he won the first of what would be two career silver medals, the other coming at Calgary in 1988.

Kurt Browning was 21 in Calgary at his first Games, finishing eighth. He would go on to win four world titles.

Elvis Stojko won the first of his two Games silver medals at Albertville in 1992 as a 21-year-old.

All of that might give the still 18-year-old Chan a swelled head. But there's not much chance of that. This head is solidly on his shoulders.

"Getting to the Olympics is a journey in itself," he told CBC Sports in a quiet moment [about four minutes] at Kitchener. "That's already a success just to be there. There's only a handful of guys out of the whole world who get to the Olympics.

"We're 5,000 [athletes at the Games] out of how many billion people in the world? To have that opportunity itself is a gold medal."

Later he said a win would be "icing on the cake."

Winning only motivation for Chan

That approach might bring some grumps from long-time watchers of Canada's Olympic athletes who believe we've sent too many people to the Games who were simply happy to be there.

This isn't what Chan seems to be about, however, and you can base that on his mere presence at Skate Canada, where he told the pressing throng there was still an occasional twinge in his left calf, especially on the landing of triple axels and triple toe loops.

So why was he taking any sort of a chance by showing up in Kitchener in the first place? Because he wants to win, that's why.

"Why am I here? If that hurts? When I say it hurts, it's like 10 per cent from what I hurt before, it's nothing like when I first hurt it," he told CBC Sports, going on to say that you could tell from the excitement of the press and the fans that they all wanted to see him.

All very fine, but that still doesn't mean he had to skate, however.

"I know. It's a combination of I have to be here, but I want to be here as well," he said. "It's a motivating factor to be here. Really, I don't think it's realistic to go to the Olympics without even competing against an international field.

"That's very unwise, I think."

Wide-open field

And after his stunning new long program choreography, created by Lori Nichol, produced three falls, Chan took it all in, refused to blame the injury, processed the information and set out on the run he's on now towards the national championships in January and then Vancouver.

2006 Olympic gold medallist Evgeni Plushenko of Russia is one of several skaters standing in Chan's way. ((Katsumi Kasahara/Associated Press))
There, Chan will run into a wide-open field that includes Nobunari Oda, Evgeni Plushenko (the 2006 Olympic gold medalist who came back to competition after a few years out and is now 28), defending silver medalist Stephane Lambiel, and Patrick Joubert (who cut his foot badly on a practice jump in late November and was operated on).

There are also American Evan Lysacek, who won the worlds in 2009, and Daisuke Takahashi.

In other words it's as wide open a competition as has been seen at an Olympic Games, perhaps ever. And unlike the women's side, where Korea's Yu-Na Kim (coached by Orser) is a huge favourite, none of those men is an island of talent in a sea of pretenders.

Chan is ready for it, and he's even come to a mental understanding of how he's handling the pain.

"In practice, you can feel the pain so much easier," he told Nancy Wilson, in a one-on-one interview for CBC News. "Whereas in competition you are so high on adrenaline, you are pushing your limits to achieve the best no matter how painful it is.

"So that's why I'm not too worried about it hurting while I'm here [in Kitchener]."

And perhaps why all those other contenders might be deeply concerned, even if it doesn't stop hurting that "10 per cent" in time.