Shock and awe: The remarkable return of Patrick Chan
It can be stressful to be a fan of Patrick Chan.
It’s obviously a different kind of stress than what the three-time world champion must feel when he steps on the ice, but it’s there all the same.
When a skater is that gifted and that skilled, you just want him to be at his best all the time. It’s selfish really to want to be left in awe. But when he delivers a program as he did in his free skate at Skate Canada International on Saturday night, you remember why you became a fan in the first place.
I travelled to Lethbridge not expecting to witness a Chan victory. As good as I know he can be, this was his first real competition since finishing second at Sochi 2014. Sure he’d kept his skills up while performing with Stars on Ice, but he missed the regimen of training towards set goals.
“As much as I was doing shows, when I wasn’t it was really boring and I felt like ‘what am I doing sitting at home doing nothing when all of my friends are at the rink training?’”
But while he may have missed the training and the great times he had with his fellow skaters and friends at competitions, he seemed to have forgotten about what it meant to actually compete.
There’s so much mental pressure involved in doing a six minute warmup and then waiting around for more than half an hour before trying to perform on demand in front of a home crowd that wants nothing more than for him to succeed; a crowd that waits with bated breath as he launches into each jump.
“When you get to competition and it comes down to business I’m like ‘oh my God, why am I doing this?’ because this is really stressful, this is uncomfortable for me.”
Indeed, it did get to him in the short program when he fell on his triple Axel and received no marks for a doubled Lutz. He was lucky to find himself in second place.
“I was thinking too much about how I want to show people I’m back and I’m excited and I have all my jumps back and I’m here and there’s that excitement, like that puppy with all his friends who is really excited to be there and I think that became a little hard to control.”
There was also much ado made about the fact that he was facing the man who beat him for gold in Sochi, Yuzuru Hanyu. There would be no flying under the radar, no easing back into competitive mode.
“He’s been through so much, I’ve been through so much. In the year a lot changed for both of us and it’s great to go head-to-head again but at the end of the day, figure skating is not a boxing match. You’re out there skating on your own and you put out what you can do best and we see how it unfolds.”
How it unfolded on Saturday was this:
Following his shocking sixth place finish in the short program thanks to two invalidated elements, Hanyu was first out of the gate in the final flight. With a program that has been getting rave reviews from numerous insiders, he landed two quad toe loops, one quad Salchow, two triple Axels and three other triples. Impressive to say the least and notching a huge technical elements score of 98.35. His components scores for his skating skills, transitions, performance, choreography and interpretation were also up there, totaling 88.94. The standard was set at 186.29 in the free skate, 259.54 overall.
Sitting in the stands, I never gave a thought that his score could be matched, let alone topped. No one who would follow had the same base content, including Chan. The would-be challengers came and went, including 17-year-old Canadian Nam Nguyen with two quads and two triple Axels of his own.
Then came Chan.
His opening quad toe-triple toe combo was spectacular, as was the triple Axel that followed, a jump that has been extremely inconsistent for him over the years. It wasn’t just that he landed them. It was the way they soared through the air and the speed and flow he had on the landings. They were so good that the quad combo went from a base value of 14.60 to 16.89 and the Axel rose from 8.50 to 10.64. Looking at his score sheet, it’s the same all the way down. Huge positive grades of execution meant that it didn’t really matter that he turned his second planned quad toe into a triple. He made up for it elsewhere, such as with his step sequence. Not only was it graded at the most difficult level four, he got +3 almost across the board from the judges, making it worth 6.00 instead of the 3.90 it started at.
So whereas Hanyu went from 90.50 on his planned technical content to the 98.35, Chan went from 76.92 to 95.17. Wow. My mind could hardly comprehend it when I first saw the protocols.
And the components! There are few things in figure skating I enjoy more than watching Chan fly down the ice while he executes the most complicated of steps and turns with deceiving ease. Apparently the judges agreed with me because he received eight individual perfect 10s with final averages in the mid 9s for a total of 95.16. When your components score is that close to the maximum possible 100, you know you’ve done something special.
And the crowd recognized it, everyone on their feet before Chan had even finished his final spin. It was the program we all hoped to see, but didn’t dare believe that we would. At least not this early in his return.
“It’s a great feeling when you go out and do what you’ve been doing day after day.”
That it is Patrick. It’s also a great feeling as a fan to know that I can relive that incredible comeback moment again and again with the knowledge that there’s room for him to get even better.
It’s going to be a great season.