Road To The Olympic Games

Athlete of the Year: Patrick Chan

The athlete of the year is Patrick Chan, who went undefeated this season during which he won a fourth consecutive Canadian figure skating championship and his first world title, setting three world records in the process at the age of 20.

Our own Pj Kwong, the fine CBC Sports figure skating analyst, possesses a sharp eye for talent.

A credible voice in the sport, she also boasts some of her own talents, among them being fluent in English, French, German and Spanish. She’s also an author and self-proclaimed Word Broker.

And there are some who would say Kwong has the ability to forecast events, like the time she predicted greatness for Canada’s Patrick Chan.

"Last July," Kwong wrote in a blog back in January, "I was at the Liberty summer competition near Philadelphia, and as Chan finished his short program I sent a text message to [his longtime choreographer Lori] Nichol: ‘Congrats on a brilliant short program. World title to follow [in 2011]!’"

Well, in April, just three months after winning his fourth consecutive Canadian title, Chan earned his first world title, and he did it in style by achieving world records in the short (93.02), free skate (187.96) and overall score (280.98) at Moscow’s Megasport Arena.

In a year in which several Canadian athletes achieved plenty — including speedskater Christine Nesbitt, baseball’s John Axford and Joey Votto, shot putter Dylan Armstrong and Olympic show-jumping gold medallist Eric Lamaze (see sidebar) — is giving Toronto native Chan the nod as its top athlete for 2011.

In addition to winning Canada’s 12th title in world championship history, the 20-year-old shone at ISU Four Continents, two Grand Prix events and the Final to complete his undefeated season.

"It's a great honour for me to win the CBC Sports athlete of the year for 2011. It's been an amazing 2011 season with a world championship, three world records and a repeat at the Grand Prix Final," he told CBC Sports.

"It's been quite a year and thank you very much for nominating me and I hope to have many more. And I hope you guys will keep enjoying what I'm doing."

5 other worthy top athletes

Dylan Armstrong: The world's No. 1 ranked shot put athlete. A silver medallist at the world championships, Armstrong also won the Pan American Games gold medal with a Games record effort, plus he won the Diamond League series. A native of Kamloops, B.C., Armstrong established himself as the Olympic favourite in London.

John Axford: The native of Simcoe, Ont., had a breakout year as a reliever for the Milwaukee Brewers. His 46 saves led the National League and established a club record. Axford also played a big part in the underdog Brewers making it to the National League Championship Series, where they eventually succumbed to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Eric Lamaze/Hickstead: It was a tragic end to a brilliant career and an equally brilliant season. This one is not about the sympathy vote. Under Lamaze's guidance Hickstead remained the No. 1 ranked show jumping horse in the world in 2011. He had prestigious Grand Prix wins in Rome and La Baule, France. Hickstead also won the richest event in the sport, the CN International at Spruce Meadows, for the second time.

Christine Nesbitt: There is no better speedskater anywhere. Nesbitt, who was born in Australia but grew up in London, Ont., won three world championship gold medals in the 1,000-metre, team pursuit and sprint. Nesbitt also claimed silver in the world all-around championship, which is unheard of for a sprint speedskater. On the World Cup circuit she was virtually unbeatable in her best discipline, the 1,000.

Joey Votto: Last year's Lou Marsh winner as Canada's athlete of the year turned in another stellar season in 2011. A Toronto native, Votto won his first Gold Glove at first base for the Cincinnati Reds and also was a threat at the plate, batting .309 with 29 homers and 103 runs batted in. He added 101 runs scored and eight stolen bases.

— Scott Russell, CBC Sports

Second to none

In the best of circumstances, the Grand Prix Final can be a formidable challenge. So says Brian Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medallist, who went undefeated in 1987.

"Especially with this event, if you look historically at this event, skaters are never their best in the Final."

Add Chan to the list. His far-from-flawless performance in Quebec City earlier this month was still good enough to win gold with 260.30 points overall.

"I was mentally exhausted this whole week," said Chan, whose week began with what were perceived to be unfavourable comparisons between Canada and his parents’ homeland of China in an interview with Reuters that was conducted about three months earlier.

In the interview, Chan said he felt unappreciated in his home country and was becoming increasingly drawn to his Chinese heritage.

"In skating or any amateur sport, as athletes we share something in common: the cost of training is quite a burden on our parents or on the athletes themselves trying to find a way to pay for their costs," Chan said in an exclusive interview with Kwong after the Reuters story surfaced. "My parents are very good parents and have already said that they will look after me until the end of my skating career.

"The fact that I made the comment about going to China was a reflection of daydreaming about a way to minimize those burdens. It was never meant in any way that I would want to live in and skate for China. I was thinking of my parents when I said that."

Lesson learned

And the lesson learned here, Patrick?

"One thing I will do is try to be more precise in what I say," he told reporters.

A few months back, Chan changed his ways away from the ice after his disappointing fifth-place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He improved his sleep habits and diet, and a commitment to off-ice training helped him reduce his body fat from 11 per cent to seven per cent.

On the ice, Chan opened 2011 injury-free for the first time in more than a year, allowing him to add a second quad jump to his long program in January in an attempt to fend off the likes of 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, fellow countrymen and world silver medallist Takahiko Kozuka and Czech Michal Brezina.

"My goal is to compete against myself," a confident and determined Chan told Tony Caré of in October.

"I try to just beat myself, that's who I have in front of me. That's my source of motivation. … My hope is — just like [golf great] Tiger Woods and [tennis legend] Roger Federer did — is to bring the bar up."

So, what’s next? Apparently, Chan wants to unveil a second quad Salchow at the Canadian championships in Moncton in January.

"Win another world title, and if stay healthy and if I still love the sport, hopefully do the same thing at the Olympics," said Chan, who plans to defend his world title in Nice, France, but has yet to commit to the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

"He has truly established himself as the dominant male skater in the world," said Skate Canada’s CEO William Thompson of Chan. "We’ve had many amazing world and Olympic champions from Canada, but he is certainly one of the finest, hardest-working athletes I’ve ever seen in the sport."

With files from The Canadian Press

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